Book Review: The Setup by Lizzy Dent

Quick Summary:

The Setup by Lizzy Dent follows the story of Mara Williams, a woman in her early 30s trying to navigate through her life. She’s a big believer in her horoscopes (Sagittarius) which she reads daily, destiny, and fate. Mara relies on her horoscope, from various websites, and her belief in fate, to guide her through her life. On a weekend trip to Budapest, Mara ends up in a fortune teller’s shop – which totally feels like something she would intentionally do and not stumble into it.
She meets a very pregnant fortune teller who offers to read her palm. In her reading, she tells Mara that she’s going to meet a man imminently, to which Mara signals that he’s “the one.” The fortune teller ends up going into labor before Mara’s reading is finished, leaving Mara alone in the shop to close up for her. In those few minutes Mara’s in the shop alone, a man walks in ready to get his fortune told. Mara realizes that this man could be the person the fortune teller told her she’d meet “imminently” so naturally, she poses as the fortune teller and decides to play the role of the universe, to drive this man towards her later that summer.

Plot Overview:

Mara is determined to get her life together after her trip to Budapest, taking the fortune teller’s reading to heart. Since the fortune teller vaguely told her that she needs to fix something in her life before the man she was supposed to meet imminently could take place in her life. One of the things that needed fixing was her roommate situation. Mara previously lived with her best friend Charlie, who’s since gotten married and had a baby. Mara could no longer afford her flat on her own, so she needed to find a roommate. Prior to her trip to Budapest, she found someone named Ashley Greene who could become her flatmate, not realizing that Ashley, or Ash for short, was actually a man.
Part of Mara’s mission to fix her life in preparation for her forced chance encounter with the man she met at the fortune teller was to put herself out there, and change her wardrobe and look. She starts taking random community classes she found on the church bulletin board, and actively starts chatting up her co-workers to try and make some new friendships. Meanwhile, her relationship with Charlie becomes strained as Charlie is focused on being a mom and a wife, and Mara can’t exactly relate.

Common Themes + Opinions:

The biggest and most glaring theme in The Setup is Mara’s reliance on the stars to guide her through life. I have nothing against horoscopes; in fact, I check mine occasionally and do find that I can relate its content to things happening in my life. However, I’m not reliant on it to help me make life choices or even basic decisions – much like Mara does. When the stars can’t give her a clear answer, she relies on fate to make the choice for her. All of this to say that Mara lacks self trust, which I can relate to. It’s challenging to make a seemingly finite decision, unsure of what the results will lead to. Mara’s biggest fear was failing, and she didn’t trust herself well enough to guide herself through life despite this. It’s comforting to understand that while making decisions can sometimes be daunting, even if things go wrong or you “fail,” you will always have the option to choose again.

Another overarching theme in the book is friendships. Mara clung onto her only friend Charlie for as long as possible, where they were roommates at one point. However, Charlie is in the next phase of her life as a wife and a mom, where time with Mara got increasingly difficult to find. This causes a rift between Mara and Charlie as Mara selfishly wants her friend back, while Charlie struggles to balance being a wife, mom, and friend. Mara realizes that she needs to make new friends, to complement her “new” self, but because she comes to terms with the fact that her friendship with Charlie isn’t what it used to be, and that’s okay. Mara opens herself up and puts herself out there to make new friends, and have new experiences. In doing so, she makes friends with her co-workers, her roommate, and ends up seeing what her small town has to offer.

Final Thoughts + Ratings:

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Setup. It was a bit of a slow start for me, especially having to read through Mara’s stubbornness regarding her fortune and her obsession with that stranger she met at the fortune teller’s. I kept on reading though, and I’m glad I did. I resonated a lot with Mara’s realization in her lack of trust in herself, and her realizing that she does have the capability to listen to her intuition without relying on her horoscope. I also resonated with her putting herself out there and how she created her new friend circle, and more importantly, how she integrated into her own community. It’s challenging to do but very much worth doing the hard work.
I give The Setup five stars for its relatability. This book actually reminded me of Just Haven’t Met You Yet by Sophie Cousens – similar plot but different circumstances. Regarding the spice, there’s minimal action in the story – there’s like 1-2 makeout sessions but not much else.
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