I read Beach Read by Emily Henry as a challenge. I had this plan to look at unfamiliar genres, with the unexplored territory of romance seeming like a good place to start. Trying to choose a book, I discovered that Beach Read was about a romance author and a literary fiction writer deciding to attempt each other’s type of book. Seeing as I was engaged in a similar swap myself, Beach Read made sense.
January (romance) and Everett (literary fiction), two former rivals from high school writing club, find themselves living in neighbouring beach houses on Lake Michigan during turbulent times in both their lives. Trying to overcome an engrained distrust of each other’s writing, they devise a scheme to swap genres, and agree that once a week they will take turns in organising some practical teaching activity. January’s training course consists of an evening at a drive-in cinema watching three Meg Ryan films in a row, line dancing, going to a funfair, and walking on a beach at sunset. Everett’s training course in literary fiction is more vague – as is literary fiction, if you ask me. It’s all about heavy meetings with survivors of a cult. You get the feeling that literary fiction is meant to be dark and twisty, with tragedy waiting at the end.
Beach Read is much more romance than literary fiction in its tone. Told from January’s point of view, the book in many ways turned out to be definitive romance, an education for a reader, and Everett, in how it’s done. Most of the tropes of romance – which I now know about – were there. We had enemies to lovers, forced proximity, second chance romance, work romance, and fake relationship/dating – which is where people pretend to be in love for some reason, and then fall in love for real.
My favourite parts of Beach Read were when January and Everett sat working in their separate beach houses, or went on each other’s research trips, trying to find a way to communicate. I felt this was a very interesting, amusing reflection on the way writing has divided itself into genres serving particular groups of people. And yet writing is also about communication between people. Romance itself is a genre that seeks to bring two people together, people who are usually enemies, if one of its most popular tropes is to be believed. So that aspect of the book – the idea of writing splitting people up and trying to bring them back together – was fascinating. It is also timely with trends in writing heading towards ever more focused genres serving different groups of readers.
The ending seemed more straightforward romance fiction than the first three quarters, with January and her best friend discussing their respective relationship problems. There was a lot of crying in this section. I felt out of the loop at the end, as any man would when two women get together to discuss men and how disappointing they are. I’m not saying they’re not disappointing, obviously, but this part of the book felt like it was for a different audience. But maybe that’s the point. Sometimes writing is an activity that defines who you are and where you belong: and sometimes it’s about trying to escape these boundaries and reach out further.
Beach Read offers a perceptive insight into life, love and the fragmented modern literary scene. I enjoyed it.