The Couple by Helly Acton

My grateful thanks to Tracy Fenton for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for The Couple by Helly Acton. I’m delighted to be sharing my review of The Couple today.

Published by Bonnier imprint Zaffre on 27th May 2021, The Couple is available in all the usual places including here.

The Couple

The author of The Radio 2 Book Club Pick The Shelf returns with her brand new novel.

Millie is a perfectionist. She’s happy, she’s successful – and, with a great support network of friends and family (and a very grumpy cat) around her, she’s never lonely. She has her dream job at a big tech firm and is on track to become the company’s youngest ever Innovation Director. The last thing she needs is romance messing up her perfectly organised world.

Besides, normal people just don’t have romantic relationships. Everyone knows that being in a couple is a bit . . . well, odd. Sure, everybody has that one coupled-up friend who messes up the numbers at dinner parties, but it’s a bit eccentric. You know, like having a pet snake or living off the grid. Why rely on another person for your own happiness? Why risk the humiliation of unrequited love or the agony of a break-up when you can do everything yourself? No, Millie is perfectly happy with her conventional single life.

So when Millie lands a new project at work, launching a pill that stops you falling in love, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. That is, until she starts working with Ben. He’s charming and funny, and Millie feels an instant connection with him. Is this the spark that science and society are trying to suppress?

Will Millie sacrifice everything she believes in for love?

My Review of The Couple

Millie has everything under control – doesn’t she?

I was struck from the very beginning of The Couple what a brilliant premise for a story this book is. Helly Acton inverts our usual social mores and illustrates to perfection how ridiculous we can be and, actually, how offensive group social expectations are for many individuals. Here, instead of being derided for remaining single as so often happens still in today’s society, Helly Acton explores what life might be like if coupes were the abnormality, and she does so brilliantly.

Certainly there is a wonderful love story at the heart of The Couple and I was very much hoping for a conventional happy ever after ending, but the developing relationship between Millie and Ben illustrates so well, through Millie’s reactions in particular, the anxieties, self-doubts and the need to conform so many of us experience, as we put aside our innermost feelings in the face of other people’s demands. Ben works as the perfect foil to this, being true to himself and illustrating that happiness is the only ambition we really need. I thought this aspect of the book was not only perfectly developed, but I found it uplifting and encouraging too.

Even deeper themes like parental and professional control, sexuality, relationships, loneliness and the cut-throat ethical dubiousness of international companies, ripple through the story, but whilst themes with gravitas underpin the action, The Couple remains a fresh, innovative and highly entertaining read. Helly Acton uses a fast pace, wonderful humour and hugely effective techniques such as emails, texts and Millie’s italicised thoughts, to create a fast pace, cracking enjoyment and a narrative I loved.

The characters are very engaging. Of course I was partly in love with Ben from the first moment, but even the more minor characters like the yoghurt obsessed Saskia held a fascination too because they exemplified people I have met in my own life. The more I read of The Couple, the more glad I was that I live in my world and not theirs. This is such skilful writing because I had fun reading The Couple but it made me think and made me glad to be me too.

I so enjoyed The Couple. It’s well written, enjoyable, witty, clever and brilliant entertainment. I think The Couple is the perfect escapist read – with added clout!

About Helly Acton

Helly Acton is a copywriter from London with past lives in Zimbabwe, the Middle East and Australia. She studied Law at King’s College London before following a more creative path into advertising. At 26, Helly took a career break to travel in Africa and Asia, before landing in Sydney. Six years and one life-affirming break up later, she returned home and threw herself into online dating in the city. Helly uses this experience as a single woman in her early thirties – torn between settling down and savouring her independence – as a source of inspiration.

Helly currently lives in Berkshire with her husband, Chris, their little boy, Arlo, and their little dog, Milo. Sometimes, she gets their names mixed up.

You can follow Helly on Twitter @hellyacton and find her on Instagram or visit her website for more information.

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