Having loved several of Emily Henry’s previous works, I had high hopes for Happy Place and, I’m happy to say, she most certainly didn’t disappoint; to the extent where, several days on, I’m still thinking about a key aspect of this book and wondering how I can focus on it more in my own life.
So, let me set the scene. The book is set around Harriet, a group of her friends – Cleo, Sabrina, Kimmy and Parth – and her fiancé (ok, technically as the story begins, ex-fiance) Wyn. The pair met in college and to their nearest and dearest they are the perfect couple. What those loved ones don’t know however is that this perfect partnership ended six months ago and now, as Harriet heads to Maine for an annual week-long trip/reunion to mark some big changes and moments that are happening (no spoilers!), with an unexpected inclusion in the form of her ex, she and Wyn have to juggle balancing their friendships with their friends with their uneasiness around each other – all the while still pretending to be together. Complicated, right?
I for one can most certainly relate to the fact that neither Harriet or Wyn want to upset or hurt their friends by telling them the truth, especially when big and important changes are happening in various lives, and a chapter of their group story is coming to an end with the sale of the summer house they’ve been meeting up at for years. I’ve honestly lost track of the number of times I’ve hidden my real feelings about something, or told a small, sometimes even HUGE lie, in order to not upset or offend those around me. It’s an uncomfortable world to reside in, and the fact Harriet is slap-bang in the middle of such a situation is one of the key reasons I connected to this book and the story as strongly as I did.
Friendship is a big deal to me, as it should be to all of us, and I genuinely believe it is our friendships, not family, that truly define who we are and who we later go on to become. Henry sets this topic in the centre of Happy Place, with the more intimate relationships, from my perspective at least, coming second, though still, understandably, playing a huge part.
I’ve always been single so when it comes to any book that involves couples – as most I’ve read do – I tend to find myself somewhat adrift from them and unable to really connect with the pair. This wasn’t the case with Harriet and Wyn. Both as individuals and a couple, it took me only a few chapters to get an understanding of who they were and are, both separate and together. I smiled reading about the growth and development of their ‘friends-to-lovers’ relationship and I remember wishing I felt as ‘comfortable’ around any guy as Harriet seems to from the off – even if their first communication involves comment of a nude painting – with Wyn. To say much more about the pair and their time together both pre and post-break-up would be to give away too much.
The loss of a parent is difficult for anyone to go through and, having experienced such a loss myself, I must praise Henry for the way she weaved such heartbreak into the story. No word of or addressing of the loss felt out of place – as if it came from a moment or experience perhaps Henry herself has suffered – and was written with compassion, sincerity and a feeling that anyone who read the words about it would and will suddenly feel a new, stronger love for their parents and perhaps go and tell them how appreciated they are; after all, life is short and tomorrow is never promised.
Life is complicated and multi-faceted and I’ve found few authors who can and do address that reality as simply, but also as brilliantly, as Henry does. By keeping Happy Place set largely in one place, at the summer house, she’s able to keep the focus on Harriet, Wyn and their friends; all of whom are as colourful, intriguing and easy to identify with in their own ways. Harriet and Wyn may be the central pair of the book but that doesn’t mean the others are overlooked; if anything, they’re some of the most included characters I’ve seen in some time – and every single one of them has an impact on how the story unfolds and what it means for the couple at its heart.
If I had to champion one thing about this book – and believe me, I can champion many – it’s this. There’s a particular realism to the friendships in this book; the highs and the lows the group experience, the truths they tell each other and the way in which they seem to know one another better than they do themselves – “I didn’t realise how little I understood myself until I met Cleo and Sabrina” – is testament to that. I for one have had friendships come and go over the years (who hasn’t?), and I’ve had a few endure the challenges and questions raised by certain characters here.
What matters however is how and why friendships survive. Time ebbs away and people may grow apart, but TRUE friendship is unbreakable. It doesn’t matter how big the distance might be between two or more people, the different kinds of lives they lead or what conflicts they might have with one another and/or others about various issues – if a friendship is meant to work, it will – and this book reminded me of that time and time again. As I said before, I for one see friendship – platonic love – and not romance as the key focus of this book and it’s fantastic to see those powerful and important bonds between people take centre stage like they do.
If you’re looking for a new read that will make you smile, laugh, cry, reminisce and feel grateful for the people in your life, then look no further. With its fantastically written story and an array of colourful, realistic characters you can genuinely and easily identify with, Happy Place deserves to be Henry’s next Beach Read hit of the summer.