Don’t be fooled by the gorgeous, glossy cover of We Could Be Beautiful. Like its protagonist, the book’s outward appearance belies the dark, unsettling story within. Catherine West is a troubled woman in a beautiful shell. Thanks to her large trust fund, she knows the secret to a well-placed Botox, her punishing self-control and personal trainer keep her figure flawless, and she’s bought her way into an impeccable home and personal style. But it’s because of all this that Catherine feels so guilty for her unhappiness. After all, surrounded by all these things, how could anyone feel so incomplete?
The latest she’s acquired to fill her inner void is William Stockton, a handsome, self-possessed man, a worldly lawyer, and a fellow art collector. On the outside, Catherine and William fit into each other’s lives seamlessly. They both enjoy dressing up and eating out, they both attend the same art exhibits, they are even old family friends. But as their relationship progresses, something is off. Catherine starts to feel paranoid in her own home and suddenly her mother is keeping secrets from her. Or perhaps, because of the Alzheimer’s, she simply can’t distinguish the past from the present anymore. With Catherine’s life spinning slowly, almost imperceptibly out of control, she starts to unravel.
According to the review section of Goodreads, some people found Catherine too narcissistic and cold to be relatable, but I found her honest and compelling. She’s at once self-aware and in denial, selfish and self-loathing. In another writer’s hands, she could have come across as one-dimensional, but Huntley knows Catherine inside and out and treats her character with respect even when she knows she probably doesn’t deserve it. We Could Be Beautiful is slow-burning, unsettling, and psychological. I found myself both shivery from tension and unable to put this one down. It’s a masterful debut and I cannot wait to pick up Huntley’s next work.
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