Formerly published as ‘Little White Lies’.
Downloaded on a whim, The Best Thing I Never Had turned out to be a pretty great read. Reminding me slightly of David Nicholls’ romantic novel, One Day, the story follows a group of university students in their final year of studying.
Lawless’ insight into university life and beyond felt very on point for me. We meet the gang in February 2012, several years after finishing uni. Miles has just proposed to his long term girlfriend, Nicky, leading to a mass text to all of their friends to spread the good news. However, for Nicky, Sukie, Harriet and Leigha, who lived together at university, a lot has changed and the prospect of being reunited is jarring. Especially for Harriet whose relationship with the rest of her university pals has broken down almost entirely. Flashback to September 2006, the start of her last year of studying, and we discover why.
As the novel progresses, Adam, Johnny and Miles (Nicky’s boyfriend), a group of boys who live down the road, become more prominent. Tensions develop as Leigha develops feeling for Adam, whilst his best mate, Johnny, falls madly in love with her. Quite the kerfuffle. To make matters worse, Adam’s friendship with Harriet grows, leading to some serious rivalry between the girls, with disastrous consequences.
I think one of the main draws to this book was, as mentioned, just how brilliantly it captures university life. The characters must juggle their workloads and budding relationships whilst managing to get pissed on a week night. It truly is a hard life. What’s more is that Lawless manages to craft some pretty fantastic characters. Personally, I loved Harriet the best. Becoming one of the more prominent characters of the ensemble, Harriet is quieter than her rowdy girlfriends. She’s kind, fiercely loyal, bookish, hard-working, yet somehow effortlessly cool. Lawless has us really feeling for this character, whilst an excellent book boyfriend was made in the form of Adam. He, at first, seems rather superficial, lapping up the attention he gets from Leigha, yet emerges as a really lovely and swoon worthy guy.
Furthermore, I really liked Sukie’s character, but felt that she wasn’t explored enough at all. Only in the final section of the book, when the narrative returns to the present day as the group start to prepare for Nicky and Miles’ big day, do we really begin to understand her character. Similarly with Nicky and Miles. We learn a lot about them in the latter part of the novel but their 2006 story sheds only a small amount of light on what makes them tick as a couple. Nicky’s lost dream of living and studying in France seems like a massive afterthought. Considering the couple are so important to bringing the group back together, we don’t learn as much about them as I’d personally like.
I must say that I felt an unexpected connection to this novel. I lived in a house full of girls at university for two years, after enduring some smelly (albeit secretly sweet) boys in my first year, and found myself picturing my friends and our house as I made my way through the story. Those girls were and are some of my best friends and so I felt an affinity with this group of female characters and their close friendship with each other. It really made me miss them and the thought of falling out with them (as Harriet does in the novel) is unbearable. I think the novel really taps into a sense of time and place that I feel a lot of readers will be able to recognise.
Overall, this was a really enjoyable read that I recommend to all young romantics out there. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.
This review was originally posted on my previous blog 2 years ago. Since then I’ve read another one of Erin Lawless’ books (Somewhere Only We Know) and absolutely loved it. She is an author that I love to follow, check her out!