REVIEW: The Couple by Helly Acton

In brief: In a world where singles rules, Millie thinks she has her life sorted. But then she meets Ben. Will she defy convention to be a couple?

The good: Great romcom vibes.

The not-so-good: There is a bit of alternate reality here, so be openminded.

Why I chose it: Loved The Shelf!

Year: 2021

Pages: 385

Publisher: Zaffre (Bonnier Books/Allen & Unwin)

Setting: Mainly London

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Helly Acton’s debut The Shelf last a lasting impression on me of a funny, original novel. The Couple is just as great in terms of originality and fun but it is a little more out there. And by out there, I mean that there are some alternate reality elements that may throw the reader (like it did me). The blurb didn’t really spell it out for me, and I wish it did.

The alternate universe that Millie and her friends exist in are that single people rule. Couples and love are frowned upon, both socially and through laws and taxes. People have children via anonymous donors and couples are viewed very negatively. Still, some persist and are seen as odd in society. If someone wants sex, they turn to Slide, an app for hook-ups with user ratings similar to Uber. Millie works for Slide, which has recently been bought out by a social media conglomerate called Human. As part of the media for Slide, she and her colleagues are tasked with introducing a new drug to people that will stop you falling in love – forever. That means that friends and family will always come first and careers will follow a linear path without any deviations for love. Millie stands by the single life, enjoying the time with almost sister/best friend June, her mum and colleague Ruth. But when Ruth quits Slide for the couple life, Millie and new recruit from Wales Ben are tasked with working on an advertising campaign for the new drug, Oxytoxin. Ben is the product of a happy couple and has even been part of one himself. As he and Millie work through the aspects of the campaign, they find themselves becoming closer. Will Millie follow her heart or her single vision board?

The Couple is primarily a romantic comedy with those alternate universe elements thrown in. I must admit to feeling a bit of place with the couple/singles thing as it took me a while to work out that it was a clever commentary on how some people treat singles. Once I got into the swing of Millie’s world, I really enjoyed the story. Ben and Millie make for a cute pair, with lots of in jokes and spark. I enjoyed the clever commentary on social media companies and even the name Oxytoxin (which has got to be a riff on another drug with horrible consequences, or on the feel good hormone, oxytocin). There is also a fun villain in Sasha, Millie’s colleague who will stop at nothing for a promotion. Ruth provides the perspective of life as a couple and June is at times hilarious in her assessment of Millie’s character (and at others, frustratingly obstructive)! The romance and comedy are nicely balanced with commentary on people’s need to judge individuals by their relationship status. I did feel the story tied up a little too nicely and neatly, particularly in relation to Sasha’s revelation and Al’s one liner (one of Millie’s friends who doesn’t get a lot of page time). Overall, it was a fun read with a conscious look at society today.

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