Book Review: Beach Read by Emily Henry
‘Beach Read’ was Emily Henry’s 2020 contemporary romance novel – a hit on TikTok and filled with popular tropes it’s personable and upbeat tone made it an easy and delightful read.
The story follows January Andrews, a young, successful writer of women’s fiction who has fallen behind on her deadlines for drafts upon her father’s death and the revelation he had been having an affair. To make things worse, her mother had known about his infidelity and January had just inadvertently inherited his beach house, where he and the other woman, Sonya, lived together on Lake Michigan. And, just to rub salt in her wounds, her partner of six years, Jacques, dumped her. January’s summer wasn’t looking particularly sunny.
A chance reunion with a rival from her undergraduate degree, and new neighbour , Augustus Everett certainly puts her in a tailspin. And while both writers are struggling with the expectations of their readers, their genres and their industry, they strike up a bet: Gus would write a romance novel instead of literary fiction, and January would write literary fiction instead of a romance, whoever sold their book first would win bragging rights, and a front cover endorsement from the lower, thus settling their rivalry for good.
But as they learn about each other’s genres and spend days doing “research” together, they realise that perhaps the differences they were once so aware of, were the defences that kept them safe. And what started as a rivalry becomes something else entirely.
I adored January’s character. She was a likeable mess of a woman, struggling to keep the world from falling apart around her. From her sheer desperate lack of cash, to use of alcohol as a crutch, to rose-tinted view on the world around her, I loved getting to know her. She was a woman I could see myself being in awe of, like she was in my class at university. And of course, that made her desperation and bleak existentialism at her situation even more compelling. After all, what is a protagonist without a challenge to their worldview as cataclysmic as her late father’s former lover appearing at his funeral, uninvited?
Although I am not a heavy romance reader, I can say with my chest that Henry uses popular tropes in a confident and unique manner. The comforts of the genre and its conventions of the grump and the sunshine were spun into a new perspective that proved evocative and captivating. As a writer myself, I felt a deep connection and empathy with both January and Gus as they explored how they came up with ideas for their own books, their relationships with their work, and their former classmates’ work. It was refreshing to see such raw and real understanding of the art of writing in a way that allowed readers to empathise with the authors whose work they love to read.
With Henry’s controlled pacing and interwoven plot threads seamlessly blending together, I found myself deeply immersed in this small town life, like January, the stranger, being welcomed in and finding her feet. The story was welcoming and warm. It makes me confident to pick up more of Henry’s books in the future.