Still catching up on my 2021 reviews, so bear with me. This is one I finished back in November, I think. Yikes. Not long before that I read my first Beth O’Leary novel, The Flatshare. I positively loved its charm and wit. The characters were lovable. I expected the same here but really found it lacking, unfortunately. It is a short read, and it’s romantic and well-written in O’Leary’s signature style. In this case, however, neither the story nor the characters kept my attention.
Addie and her sister are setting off on a road trip to a friend’s wedding in Scotland when the car behind them crashes into them. Much to their surprise, the other car is also headed to the same wedding in Scotland. But to Addie’s dismay, one of the occupants in said car is Addie’s ex-boyfriend, Dylan, with whom she had a nasty breakup two years prior. With the other car totaled, the girls feel they have no choice but to invite Dylan and his annoyingly pretentious friend, Marcus, along for the journey. What follows is an often deeply uncomfortable but ultimately soul-searching journey that takes much longer than it should. As the story progresses, we flash back and forth from past to present to see the arc of Addie and Dylan’s relationship from beginning to end, providing the context necessary to understand how things became so sour between them.
Ok, where do I start? I think I want to start with character. Honestly, this is a pretty promising premise, and I like the way O’Leary crafts the novel alternating flashback and the present. I also definitely enjoy her writing style. It’s engaging, polished, and meticulously layered. The problem is, I just legitimately didn’t like anyone in this book. I think partly it’s a generational thing. And partly it’s the fact that I am extremely vanilla as a person, probably so much so that it’s not to my credit. Even in my 20’s I never lived this lifestyle where male friends passed around their female friends for sex, and I certainly know nothing of what’s it’s like to go to posh parties with rich and beautiful people.
Don’t get me wrong, I will ever be in the corner of ring with the characters who you don’t necessarily like as long as they are compelling. In this case, however, they just weren’t. And that made it very difficult for me to root for Addie and Dylan as a couple. If you don’t care about the love story here, well… you aren’t left with much to care about at all. Even the peripheral characters were often creepy, weird, or utterly pretentious without even a glimmer of charm on their facade to make them passably likable.
Also, and this is probably one of the most important designations, with a love story I really enjoy seeing the development of the attraction, what sparks the chemistry. In The Flatshare, you don’t stumble upon characters who are instantly in love. There’s a slow and meaningful progression of feelings, and the reader can experience the shift in dynamic which improves upon the chemistry. In The Road Trip, two characters lock eyes, lust after one another immediately, have sex and then we miraculously find out they are in love. I’m an almost 40 year old woman, and I desperately want to tell these kids to cool their jets and get to know each other. That’s a recipe for disaster, and twenty years from now they’ll be wondering why the hell they jumped into a committed relationship so quickly with someone they really didn’t take time to explore on a more intimate level. Surface attraction only breeds future resentment and a feeling of being tied to someone you are incapable of loving deeply.
I don’t mean they shouldn’t have jumped in bed together. By all means, go for it, have fun! But where most people go wrong is they let their loins speak for their brains way too early. This book doesn’t depict a perfect love story. It depicts young people doing the things we all did as young people and pretending that it’s going to work long term. Those of us who are old and experienced can see the writing on the wall, and we’re cringing a little bit.
Overall, this book was pretty disappointing. Already just a couple of months after having finished it, I’m finding it to be rather forgettable. That’s a really bad sign. I give this one 2 stars.