Meet the wedding party:
THE BRIDE AND GROOM
Celine and Luke are meant to get married and live happily ever after. But Celine’s more interested in playing the piano, and Luke’s a serial cheater.
Phoebe, Celine’s sister, is meant to finish college and get a real job. Instead she pulls pints, lives with six flatmates, and has no long-term aspirations beyond smoking her millionth cigarette.
THE BEST MAN
Archie, Luke’s best friend and ex-boyfriend, is meant to move up the corporate ladder and on from Luke. Yet he stands where he is, admiring the view.
Vivian, Luke’s other best friend and other ex, was meant to put up with Luke’s bullshit when they dated. But she didn’t. And now she is contented, methodically observing her friends like ants.
As the wedding approaches and these five lives intersect, each character will find themselves looking for a path to their happily ever after – but does it lie at the end of an aisle?
Naoise Dolan’s The Happy Couple is a rather delectable literary novel exploring love and marriage, family and expectations, as well as fidelity and betrayal. At just over 200 pages long, it’s an accessible and easy read, and highly recommended.
The Happy Couple is centred around a marriage plot, and its descent and collision with reality. Celine and Luke’s engagement is somewhat of a lacklustre, nonchalant moment in their lives. Neither of them seem overly invested in marriage, and yet, once they’re engaged it’s almost like they feel compelled to go through with it.
As the story moves between past and present, we come to understand more about these two characters, as well as the orbit of friends and family that circles them. Cracks begin to show at the engagement party, when Luke goes missing and Celine almost seems willing to ignore the implications of disappearance.
“The party was over and he’d finally phoned. Celine lay on the bed. The guest room was pitch black, so Luke’s voice felt like something she could see. It was more than a sound to her, his speech; it was warm as well, in colour and in heat. It was safe.”
Naoise’s writing style is very stripped back – minimalistic description, making the reader join the dots themselves. There is a strong exploration of character, as in most literary novels, with a suite of memorable people we meet all throughout the story. Some of the characters are wildly unlikeable – Luke, for example – but Naoise still crafts a three-dimensional picture that allows readers to see beyond their imperfections.
“Ever since her conservatoire days, Celine had experienced grave doubts when she compared her own life to Franz Liszt’s. The Hungarian composer had many mistresses, one of whom wrote a scandalous novel about him, and he did just about everything you can do and not die. Then he died, fine, but his music – only where did he find the time?”
Naoise presents bisexuality in the novel with very little fanfare of attention. Both Celine and Luke are bisexual and are surrounded, on more than one occasion, with exes they’ve slept with. However, their sexuality is not made to be a ‘moment’, it simply is who they are, and it’s definitely a positive element to the story.
Admittedly, there isn’t a lot of romanticism to Luke and Celine’s relationship – her career is very well established as a professional pianist, she’s just looking to settle down with someone and enjoy the mundane aspects of life; Luke is a serial cheater who is hoping that marriage to Celine will settle him down and prove him worthy of love. If anything, their relationship feels transactional and so you spend most of the novel wondering if they’ll go through with the wedding.
“There’d never been competition between the sisters, since Celine was four years older and Phoebe didn’t care. A right pair, so they were. Swotty Celine and Phoebe the troll. Beauty and the Beast. Princess and the Frog.”
Sharp and sophisticated, The Happy Couple is an accessible literary novel for reluctant readers, but will mostly please those who love to read family sagas and stories that explore complex relationships. Fans of literary fiction will love this one. Readership skews 30+
Thank you to the publishing company for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Happy Couple
Hachette Book Publishers