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Book Review: Happy Place by Emily Henry

Book Review: Happy Place by Emily Henry

With her latest contemporary romantic comedy, Emily Henry wanted to ‘write a book that would be a warm and cozy escape’ for readers. ‘A miniature happy place’ in book form, that not only brings people joy but reminds them that they deserve it too. And this book really does all that and more. It’s a happy place made of paper and words; a story populated with so much friendship, love and wisdom that you finish it feeling like you’ve lived a whole life with the characters.

The book centres on Harriet and Wyn – a perfect couple who’ve been together since college. Well, they would be the perfect couple, if they actually were still together. Shell-shocked and heartbroken by their sudden break-up, Harriet hasn’t been able to tell their best friends – a tight group of six who’ve shared the past decade together. The moment everyone knows, everything will become final and nothing will ever be the same. Heading to Maine for their annual cottage vacation by the sea, Harriet is prepared to come clean. What she’s not prepared for is to walk into the cottage and find Wyn there too.

With the cottage due to be sold, this is the last time the friends will all be there together. It’s an end-of-an-era enough situation without Harriet and Wyn suddenly announcing that they’re no longer a couple. So they decide to fake it for the week and act like they’re still in a happy, steady relationship. How hard can it be to pretend to be in love when you’re actually still in love but desperately pretending to each other that you’ve moved on? With emotions and tensions running high, the answer is pretty damn difficult.

Go to your happy place, Harriet, I think desperately, only to realize I’m literally in my happy place, and he. Is. Here. The very last person I expected to see. The very last person I want to see. Wyn Connor. My fiancé.”

If I could climb inside any book and inhabit the location, it would be this one. Maine is the perfectly picturesque and romantic setting for a summer holiday novel, complete with all the typical New England traits and idyllic scenery you’d expect. Reading Happy Place almost feels like going on vacation. You can smell the lobster, envisage the rocky coastline and taste the sea air on your tongue. It helps that Henry has such a natural ability to capture a landscape or a scene and make it feel utterly real and lived in.

As a fan of all Henry’s previous novels, I’m certain that she can do no wrong when it comes to a winning rom-com formula. If anything, Happy Place feels like her most accomplished novel to date, with so many heightened emotions and so much palpable chemistry packed into the pages. You feel all of Harriet’s anguish and anger towards Wyn – for ending their relationship so abruptly, for throwing away eight happy years together, and for turning up at the cottage when she hadn’t had a chance to prepare herself for the shock of seeing him again. And though the story isn’t told from his POV, Wyn’s conflicted thoughts and complicated feelings come across as clearly as Harriet’s. Based on Harriet’s sense of betrayal, your first instinct might be to dislike him, but he makes it impossible.

It’s the fact that Harriet and Wyn are such thoughtful, kind and perceptive characters that you want them to work through the pain and find their way back to each other. But they’re battling with more than just the breakdown of their own relationship. They’re struggling with family and professional woes too. As a doctor in California, Harriet has worked so hard to make her parents proud but she’s exhausted, both mentally and physically. Meanwhile, Wyn ran from the small-town life he thought was expected of him, jumping from job to job, but he’s never really found the thing that makes him happy. Except Harriet, of course.

Whilst the overarching story is one about the shifting bond between friends, and how friendships evolve and reshape as people grow older, the heart and soul of the story revolves around Harriet and Wyn. They might have fallen apart and out of sync, but they haven’t fallen out of love with each other. Their fiery interactions play out deliciously, driving the story with an irresistible combination of irritation, misery, yearning and desire. Their chemistry is a physical thing; they’re so intensely aware of each other and they know what the other is thinking without speaking. From a reader’s perspective, they’re made for each other. Yet sporadic chapters set in the past tell us what caused their relationship to end. How life, rather than a lack of love, broke them apart.

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Happy Place is the kind of novel that both breaks your heart and makes it feel full to the brim. It’s funny, sad, wise, and filled with loveable, lively characters with relatable problems and such a close bond that you wish they were your friends too. It’s officially one of my favourite books of the year.


Happy Place is published by Viking on 27 April 2023

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