3 out of 4 stars
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There’s an often-quoted line from Wuthering Heights that says, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” This quote is a perfect description of Ellie and Neil, the two main characters of Looking Glass Friends by E L Neve. The pair meet when the bakery Neil works at runs out of cream puffs, and he decides to give Ellie the secret stash he had been saving for his wife. In return, she gives him her favorite book. What neither one of them knows is that the book will spark a conversation that will change everything. They are intellectual soulmates, exchanging emails and occasionally phone calls where they have spirited discussions. How will Ellie’s husband react to her “friendship” with this new man? What will happen with their son Johnny? Will Ellie and Neil choose happiness over comfort, love over stability?
I desperately wanted to give Looking Glass Friends a perfect score. Out of all the books I have reviewed on here, this one is my favorite. This is mostly due to the author’s incredible writing style. She is able to weave beautiful metaphors seamlessly with literary references and philosophical conversations without any hint of pretension. Others have likened this work to poetry, and I have to agree. From literally the first ten pages, the author had me enthralled by the story, and I never lost that enthusiasm. This was the first book in a long time that was hard for me to put down. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about the conversations between Ellie and Neil and forming my own thoughts about the topics. I rarely reread books, but this one made me want to read it again the second I finished.
I want to clear up something for readers who may have the same doubts about Looking Glass Friends that I did. This is not a book about cheating, at least in the physical sense. There are certainly mentions of infidelity, along with sexual assault and suicide, so if those are topics you are sensitive to, you may want to avoid this one. However, this is a story about pure love overall. Ellie and Neil don’t even see each other in person for a majority of the book, communicating mostly through email. Whether or not their conversations cross the line into cheating is up to interpretation. They understand what the consequences of choosing each other will be, and they are careful not to be hasty in their decision. As someone who believes there is very rarely, if ever, a reason for cheating, I was relieved by this aspect of the story.
There is one concern that I have with this book, though. When we first meet Neil, he has a gun in his mouth and is seriously considering pulling the trigger. However, the thought of Ellie, who is a stranger to him at this time, keeps him from doing so. I had no problem with this, as it seemed that Neil was just looking for a reason, however small, to keep living. What I do have a problem with is how Neil is fine after he meets Ellie. With one book and a few conversations, Neil’s depression and suicidal thoughts seem to disappear. When he and Ellie are on good terms, there is barely any mention of his mental health. Even when they are not speaking, she is the thing that keeps him from going back to that darkness. This is romantic in theory, but it seems unrealistic. While I do not believe this was the author’s intent, I think it could perpetuate the idea that you can “cure” someone’s mental illness or suicidal thoughts by simply loving them, which is not true.
Because of this and an unfortunate number of errors in the text, I am giving Looking Glass Friends 3 out of 4 stars. The only other criticism I have is that the ending seemed a bit cliché, and I wish it had tied up a few more things, such as the relationship between Ellie and her husband. Besides that, I loved this story, and I feel that giving it anything under 3 stars would be a disservice to potential readers. I like love stories, but I tend to avoid many of them because they feel bland or generic. Looking Glass Friends is neither of these things. It is truly unique, thought-provoking, and overall a great read.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a bit of a philosophical romance novel. The romantics reading this will be pleased to hear that Neil and Ellie’s conversations were based on real love letters. Younger readers will want to avoid this one since there is sexual content. Book lovers, of which there should be plenty on this site, should enjoy the fact that the pair first bonds over Atlas Shrugged, though you do not need to have read this book to understand their conversations. Lastly, I would recommend Looking Glass Friends to lovers of poetry, both because of the author’s poetic style of writing and the numerous references to poems throughout the story.
Looking Glass Friends
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