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Book Review: For You and Only You by Caroline Kepnes

Book Review: For You and Only You by Caroline Kepnes

Inside Joe Goldbergs head is undeniably a dark place to be. But even after four seasons of television and what is now four books with Joe and his twisted morals at the helm, this latest chapter of Joes story remains as dangerously compelling as it was on day one.

When we last saw the book version of Joe in 2021s You Love Me, he was holed up in Florida after his latest romantic entanglement fell apart in a deadly way. Fast forward to For You and Only You and Joe is following his TV counterpart into the world of higher education after being chosen to take part in an exclusive writing fellowship at Harvard. While initially thrilled to have been plucked from the masses for his genius by an acclaimed literary author, Joe is quickly brought down to Earth when he realises that the rest of the fellowship are just another group of wealthy, connected, privileged people to compare himself to. And then Joe meets Wonder.

Like Joe, Wonder is a genius, a lover of literature and a writer with no pretensions, no college degree and no prep school friends to pull strings for her. The moment he meets her, Joe knows that he and Wonder could be the next literary wonder-couple, set for a life of critical acclaim among the greats as they continue to push each other to fulfil their greatest potential at every possible turn. Theres so much against them, but Joe has faith in Wonder and their love – and, if necessary, hes prepared to kill all of Wonders darlings for her in order to ensure they can live the perfect happy ending they deserve.

What you and I have is real and intimate by design. Harvard is playing matchmaker and I will know you, read you and you will know me, read me. No escape for either fucking one of us.

At this point, when you pick up a Joe Goldberg novel, you absolutely know what it is that youre letting yourself in for. Joe’s inner monologue is a conflicted tumult of raging emotions, scathing criticism and intense suspicion as his obsession grows, and it’s always somewhat of a jarring narrative leap for readers to make. It makes for a slow start to this latest story, as it takes time to both adjust to Joe’s inner monologue once again and settle in to his new world of characters, places and relationships. It’s not until you get a firm understanding on all of this that the rest of the plot can really begin to get going.

Fortunately, this plot follows a structure that even the most casual of You fans will now be familiar with: boy meets girl, boy becomes obsessed with girl, boy will stop at nothing to convince girl they are perfect together, even if the boy has to commit a few crimes along the way. In many ways, however, this novel also feels like a return to even more familiar footing, with a Joe that is reminiscent of the character that we met in the first book, back when he fell in love with Guinevere Beck in a small bookshop in New York and before he got caught up with the wealthy Quinns in LA and the rich, tight knit community in the Pacific Northwest.

Here, it’s almost like Joe has gone back to his literary roots and once again his obsession is fixated on a young, female writer, leaving Joe torn between his need to prove his own genius and further his own career aspirations while also setting out to prove his devotion to the new woman in his life. Throughout the novel, the two often come into conflict with one another, and Joe is only at his happiest when his star shines brighter than Wonder’s, making for an interesting internal push and pull as Joe is forced to question what means more to him. With all the novel’s discussion of writers, characters and storytelling, it serves to highlight all of Joe’s unreliable narration tenfold, drawing particular attention to the shifting narrative that Joe tells himself while the readers themselves are privy to his inconsistencies, narrow perspective and aggressive emotional shifts.

For the most part, however, For You and Only You is a novel that feels like the walls are closing in on Joe Goldberg, and not just in the fun, thriller kind of way. Joe is the anti-hero we all love to hate, but as in the TV series, the question of how much longer Joe can keep getting away with his antics is permanently at the back of your mind. The narrative quickly falls into something familiar, with a repetitive structure and plot beats we know only too well after four books (and four seasons of Joe wreaking havoc on television too). It’s difficult to get too wrapped up in Joe’s latest obsession when we know how this story is very likely to end, even if there does happen to be a few subversive twists along the way.

Even so, For You and Only You does offer another intense journey through Joe Goldberg’s psyche, combining his murderous tendencies and inherent feelings of superiority with an inner monologue that’s rich in cultural references and dark humour to create a story that does intrigue and, more importantly, encourage you to keep reading. More than any other before it, this book feels like both Joe and the reader are very aware that time may not necessarily be on his side much longer, but Joe’s dark and twisted story is still one that you want to see through to the very end.


For You and Only You was published by Simon & Schuster on 13 April 2023

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