The Happy Couple by Naoise Dolan: book review
Overview: On the eve of an ill-fated marriage we relive Celine and Luke's romantic lives leading up to this point in hopes of answering life's big question – should they get married. Along the way, we hear from the bride, the sister of the bride, the uncle of the bride, the groom, and two of the groom's exes before everyone collides again on the wedding day. No one is sure about going through with it, but neither the bride nor the groom wants to be the first to cancel. This book dives deep into the age old question of why people should and shouldn't get married. Overall: 4
Characters: 4 Nearly every character mentioned in the book gets at least a scene told from their point of view, which means we get to know this broad cast quite well. I have to hand it to Dolan that even in close third, as we shifted through narrators' heads, it was immediately clear who's point of view we were looking through, and they each offered their own flair to how the story was told. It's fun to see such a big cast so fully incorporated into the narrative, and they all revealed interesting things about the surrounding cast when it was their turn to speak.
Celine is a professional pianist. She's built her life around piano – even wearing gloves everywhere to protect her hands – and there's hardly room for anyone else in it. She could be quite content with just the piano, but she does feel a void in the gaps between her significant relationships, which was why she moved on so quickly from her ex Maria to Luke. She's both a rule follower and a typical artist that will neglect all chores and worldly responsibilities to give herself wholly to her art. In that way, she needs Luke's support despite his frequent bouts of emotional neglect.
Opposite of Celine, Luke doesn't have much use for art and is deeply practical in profession and priorities. He needs Celine to add a flourish of light and levity to his life. And he does love her, even if they're so different. What Luke lacks that Celine has in spades is loyalty, and that's the sticking point that's worked over by almost everyone in the book leading up to the wedding day, since loyalty is the name of the game in marriage. Luke's insecurity jumps off the page. The most interesting part of the book is that Dolan does a great job of revealing the why of people's nature, taking apart certain traits and explaining where they were picked up along the way and how they've come to calcify in a person.
The rest of the surrounding characters are lively and distinct and given fully rich inner lives without ever veering the book off course from its central mission. It made the story feel real and complete. I'm always so impressed with large casts that manage to achieve this.
Plot: 4 I read this whole book in an evening. Granted, it's only 259 pages, but it absolutely flew by. While the book isn't necessarily plot heavy, it has forward motion in spades and plenty of tension. It borrows from some mystery novels in the sense that we read through so many different characters' lenses that we slowly pick up information that sheds light on what we learned before and allows us to hold information that other point of view characters don't have yet, which makes it quite exciting to see how the whole thing will explode. Dolan holds the tension of will-they-won't-they on the marriage all the way up until the final pages when it's time to walk down the aisle, and I genuinely wasn't sure how it would resolve.
Because the book is mostly focused on showing a variety of points of view and then bringing them all together, certain events are retold from multiple perspectives. This means that a lot of the book takes place within the same scene of the engagement party, but it never feels repetitive as we revisit it from different angles. There's also a good amount of flashback used, and then the rest of it takes place on the wedding day.
Writing: 4 There's such a fun lightness to this book that makes it irresistible. Even though it plays with some weighty themes and digs deep into its characters, it never feels heavy or slow. Instead, these elements are effortlessly weaved into the unfolding events, and there's plenty of humor injected. That's probably what made it so easy to read quickly. This quality also makes it a great book to speak to a broad audience of readers. While it's definitely not a romance, I think this is an example of lit fic that could have a lot of crossover appeal to that audience. I think it's also just a great general read for a holiday gift or stocking stuffer. It's definitely a standout.
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