If I Can’t Have You by Charlotte Levin – Book Review

Nicole Melanson ~

Writer Charlotte Levin Book Cover - If I Can't Have You

If I Can’t Have You by Charlotte Levin is one of the best debuts I’ve read in a long time. I absolutely flew through it!

The story of a love affair gone wrong, this book tips the balance between infatuation and obsession, showing how loneliness can dovetail into desperation. If I Can’t Have You is compelling fiction, but to label it a mere thriller undersells its complex characterization. This is a book that asks “Why?” as much as it answers “What?”

Fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine will hear echoes of Eleanor’s voice in Constance Little, a medical receptionist who becomes hopelessly smitten with a new doctor named Samuel with whom she enjoys a short-lived affair. As Samuel moves on, Constance spirals into stalker mode; that she retains the reader’s sympathy is a credit to Levin’s gift for nuance.

Strong secondary characters and storylines differentiate If I Can’t Have You from a book like You, for example. That the world around Constance is so richly colored serves to further highlight her isolation and inability to connect with others, offering some explanation — if not justification — for her fixation on Samuel even as he begins to distance himself from their affair.

Surprisingly, this book is as funny as it is dark. An undercurrent of black humor runs throughout, enhanced by wry social commentary and cultural observations. This wit provides a welcome counterpoint to the novel’s bleakness, making Constance an appealing anti-heroine — she’s just like Bridget Jones, if only Jones had a boulder-sized chip on her shoulder and a vengeful streak.

The pacing in this book is excellent, especially for a debut. If I Can’t Have You isn’t light-hearted escapism by any means, but what it lacks in levity, it makes up for by maintaining momentum from start to finish, delivering on everything it promises.