Swan Huntley’s We Could Be Beautiful presents itself as a potentially intriguing equal to S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep. Huntley’s main character Catherine West, is a forty-something trust-fund baby who has the proverbial money to burn. Bored with her life and her multiple failed relationships with men (and one woman), she believes that love repeatedly eludes her.
That is until she meets William Stockton at an art gallery, and is immediately enthralled by his good looks and unusual magnetism. The fact that William’s parents were once friends with Catherine’s adds even more to the attraction, and she becomes certain that her luck in love has changed.
Huntley’s story works to create an expected feeling of anticipation and suspicion that everything is not as it appears to be with William. Nevertheless, as the truth is slowly revealed we fail to sympathize with Catherine. She comes across as a spoilt, Botox-injected, clueless woman who lives in an absurd crystal castle of her own making.
If Huntley intended for her portrayal of Catherine West as a criticism of the frivolity and stupidity of the upper class, she unquestionably succeeded. If on the other hand, she expects us to side with Catherine and feel for her rather tragic dilemma, she fails most spectacularly.
It isn’t that the novel doesn’t have merit. Its undeniably well written and Huntley’s narrative creates a well-enshrouded enigma to which we want to know the answer. However, Catherine along with her harpy best friend Susan and lame sister Caroline only serve to reflect and affirm the many things that are wrong with society.
The ending is disappointing because even though Catherine is served a harsh lesson in heartbreak, Huntley still gives her an unrealistic and rose-clouded happy ending. Perhaps We Could Be Beautiful may have worked out much better with a protagonist, rich or no, that at least plucked a little bit at our feelings of empathy and emotional understanding.