A dark and compelling story about how dangerous and consuming infatuation can become.
Constance Little is a twenty-six-year-old receptionist who develops feelings for Samuel, the handsome new doctor at the private medical practice where she works. After a very brief affair, Constance is shocked when Samuel wants to go back to just being friends. This causes her to begin an unhealthy obsession with being a part of his life, whether he wants it or not.
The book is written from Constance’s point of view in the form of a letter she is writing to Samuel under the direction of her therapist. She is telling her side of the story as a way to process everything that’s happened but she may not be the most reliable narrator.
Whilst giving deep insight into how she thinks, it soon becomes clear that Constance has a victim mentality. Throughout the story, she has a strong belief that everyone she loves leaves her but takes no accountability for the way she treats others. This makes her a very unlikeable and flawed character.
Seeing the supporting characters through Constance’s eyes, it’s no surprise they were all average people. Even Samuel, who she was so infatuated with, was still a horrible person who treated women terribly but not horrible enough to justify the actions Constance took. On the one hand, this displays Charlotte Levin’s awesome ability to really make the reader feel what Constance is feeling but, on the other hand, it’s hard to root for any of the characters.
Marketed as a “darkly humorous and off-beat thriller” I was expecting a very different story. I didn’t find it to be humorous nor a thriller. I felt too much pity for Constance to find any humour in what she was doing and there was so much going on that I forgot she start the story sitting on a train wearing a bloodied wedding dress. Perhaps if it was marketed for what it was – a dark and disturbing look into the mind of a stalker – I would have been prepared for a sad story of loneliness, obsession and delusion.
Although there is so much to be frustrated about with the characters, the writing still hooks the reader in. The story was well-paced and every sentence moves the story forward with a determined purpose. It reads like you are witnessing each moment and makes the reader want to know more.
Levin’s storytelling is compelling, raw and somewhat disturbing. If I Can’t Have You is Levin’s debut novel, then she’s worth keeping an eye on for more… so long as the next story is a little more upbeat!
The book contains a few trigger warnings to be mindful of such as suicide, sexual assault, alcoholism, self-harm and violence.
Reviewed by Jessica Incoll
Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: July 2020