Book review: You by Caroline Kepnes

Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Permalink

The back cover blurb of You by Caroline Kepnes tells us this is a novel about love and obsession. Though – in case you’re wondering – it’s mostly about obsession, with a bit of stalking thrown in for good measure.

One day, like any other, Joe Goldberg is minding his own business in the book shop he manages when Guinevere Beck enters his life to buy some books. He’s funny and flirty. She’s funny and flirty. And Joe decides that Beck (as she prefers to be known) is obviously in love with him and they’re destined to be together.

And we all love a guy who’s so into us he’s compelled to pursue us? Don’t we?

cover52978-mediumWe spend the entire novel in Joe’s head as it’s essentially written in second person, to Beck. Although we’re not privy to his every-waking-thought Joe very offhandedly mentions that he’s gotten into Beck’s apartment and ‘taken’ things by which to remember her. (Yes, I know… how sweet!)

He’s got access to her emails and text messages so knows everything she’s doing.

Of course, true love isn’t all smooth sailing. Beck’s got an on-again, off-again lover, Benji and is also perhaps sharing more than she should with her attractive married therapist.

But Joe’s determined and – after engineering another encounter with his beloved – he clings for dear life.

It’s pretty obvious early on that Beck is far from perfect. Joe even recognises this but finds it sweet and continues for forgive her again and again.

It’s also early in the novel we learn that Joe had a similar ‘love’ in the past, but alas… it didn’t end well.

In all honesty everything about Joe and Beck’s relationship seems doomed from the start. Or… one wonders… could the pair be equally fucked-up and actually make a go of things?!

I struggled a little with this novel at stages. It’s quite clever in many ways. Being in Joe’s head means we naturally identify with him to some extent. His logic even (sometimes) seems… logical. He can be well-meaning. And loyal. Oh, and sociopathic of course.

Author Caroline Kepnes is a TV writer and journo and this is reflected in her sharp sassy prose. Despite their (ummmm) various neuroses I actually thought both Joe & Beck were terribly intelligent and witty.

I believe however there was the potential for this novel to be really good. Something darker. A real mind-f*ck. But in the end Beck’s character wasn’t as complex as it could have been. We had some insight via her text messages and emails but a bit more insight into her world and thinking would have been interesting.

The only other slightly-strange thing were the constant references to social media and technology. On one hand it makes it very ‘contemporary’ but there’s the risk of it really ‘dating’ a novel. And – someone not into twitter or hashtagging might not get some of those elements.

Nevertheless, You was an enjoyable and very different read. I’ve read other books from the perspective of the ‘baddie’ and Joe’s voice – his seeming sanity and intellect – keep me turning the pages: I knew what was coming but needed to ‘look’ anyway.

You by Caroline Kepnes will be released by Simon & Schuster (Emily Bestler Books) in late September and Simon & Schuster in Australia on 1 October 2014.

I received a copy of this book via the publisher for review purposes.