REVIEW: One Perfect Couple by Ruth Ware

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I’ve read and enjoyed several of Ruth Ware’s books, and while she’s not quite an auto-buy I am happy to see a new release from her and had no qualms about picking this one up based on the blurb:

A high-tension and ingenious thriller following five couples trapped on a storm-swept island as a killer stalks among them.

Lyla is in a bit of a rut. Her post-doctoral research has fizzled out, she’s pretty sure they won’t extend her contract, and things with her boyfriend, Nico, an aspiring actor, aren’t going great. When the opportunity arises for Nico to join the cast of a new reality TV show, The Perfect Couple, she decides to try out with him. A whirlwind audition process later, Lyla find herself whisked off to a tropical paradise with Nico, boating through the Indian Ocean towards Ever After Island, where the two of them will compete against four other couples—Bayer and Angel, Dan and Santana, Joel and Romi, and Conor and Zana—in order to win a cash prize.

But not long after they arrive on the deserted island, things start to go wrong. After the first challenge leaves everyone rattled and angry, an overnight storm takes matters from bad to worse. Cut off from the mainland by miles of ocean, deprived of their phones, and unable to contact the crew that brought them there, the group must band together for survival. As tensions run high and fresh water runs low, Lyla finds that this game show is all too real—and the stakes are life or death.

A fast-paced, spellbinding thriller rife with intrigue and characters that feel so true to life, this novel proves yet again that Ruth Ware is the queen of psychological suspense.

I wasn’t sure about the reality show setting – I’m a bit of a reality tv aficionado (judge away!), though to be honest relationship shows aren’t my main interest. The only season of The Bachelor I watched (of many, many available) was the one where the British guy (think Wish-version Hugh Grant) got engaged to Lorenzo Lamas’ daughter (spoiler: it didn’t work out).

Anyway, knowing a bit about reality tv made me wonder if some of the details would feel off to me, but Ware did a fairly decent job, I thought. There were a few bits that I didn’t buy, but some of it is explained away by the suggestion that the show is being done on spec (I think that’s the phrase) with the hopes of finding a buyer. I just suspended my disbelief and went with it.

Lyla is definitely a fish out of water amongst the other contestants – more girl next door than femme fatale, and a scientist rather than Instagram model. Her boyfriend Nico is much more the type you’d imagine on a show like this, and also much more jazzed about being on it (the blurb makes it sound like Lyla chooses to audition, but really she is heavily pressured by Nico, who is sure it’ll be his big break). Lyla finally reluctantly agrees to the trip. She doesn’t evince much concern about appearing on television, at least not for the reasons that I would have. But again – disbelief suspended.

The contestants are transported via yacht to the luxury island they’ll be filming on. On the yacht the couples meet each other, size the others up, and almost revolt when they find out totally unexpectedly that their electronics are all being confiscated for the duration (disbelief….sigh; I really feel like they should have figured that out way earlier).

The first day starts with an exercise in how well you know your partner, and chaos erupts when an unexpected contestant is abruptly eliminated. Lyla ends up “winning” and her reward is a night’s stay in the special winner’s suite with Joel, the male winner. Lyla and Joel previously had bonded lightly on the yacht as the two academics in a cast of models and influencers.

Important (and perhaps unrealistic, though I don’t know enough about the behind-the-scenes part of reality tv to say) detail: the contestants are left on the island with only one PA babysitting them while the crew and the producer (a shady character named Baz) head back on the yacht to drop off their eliminated contestant on the mainland. There are supposedly cameras in all the lodgings, so I guess they figure they won’t miss any drama that way. It felt odd to me, though.

Lyla wakes in the middle of the night to a terrific storm, a storm that ends up knocking out communications and isolating the contestants – they are effectively marooned.

Two people are found dead on the island as a result of the storm. Also, there is real concern about what may have happened to the yacht out on the open ocean, and apparently no one has reason to believe that things were organized in an above-board enough manner that they’ll be rescued anytime soon, or that the outside world knows where they are. The group immediately begins organizing to ration their meager available food and water.

I’ve seen comparisons between One Perfect Couple and Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, but what follows feels more like a twisted version of Lord of the Flies (not that LotF is not twisted enough). It’s not really suspense of the kind I usually read or necessarily expected based on the Ware books I have read.

Which is not a bad thing! I was just expecting more mystery, but the villain (villains? maybe one villain and one villain jr.) is made clear fairly early on. Further, the deaths that follow are not very mysterious either – the first death (after the initial two from the storm) actually takes place in full view of everyone, and leaves most of the castaways unsettled but ambivalent about how to proceed. They are interested in surviving, and if that means not rocking the boat, they’ll keep their heads down and their mouths shut.

As tensions rise and the food and water start to run low, Lyla bonds with some of the other women, but other contestants are isolating themselves and one quickly evolves (devolves?) from “leader” to “tyrant.”

Back to my expectations for a moment – for the longest time I was expecting a twist, and I thought I knew what it might be. That twist didn’t materialize, and the actual twist was a lot more subtle. I wonder if the suspense/thriller/mystery is unique in having these…sort of the expectation that the reader will be trying to figure out the ending as they read? Certainly, romance is different in that the expectation is a HEA, and the details often aren’t something that I, at least, as a reader, are anticipating or trying to guess ahead of time, at least not to any great degree. General fiction, on the other hand, is a bit too much of a crapshoot for me to read that way, but mysteries and thrillers INVITE the reader to try to guess what might happen and how it all might resolve itself.

So for me at least, there’s a bit of a distraction that can happen when you’re trying to pick up clues that your theory is correct – you are perceiving events a particular way in support of that theory. In the case of One Perfect Couple, there was the fact that the plot was not what I expected, and that even after I realized that I was sort of trying to fit a conventional thriller framework onto it, and that affected how I read it (incomplete reading of the blurb is partly to blame here, and I’ve come to realize that I do that often – either don’t carefully read the blurb or don’t retain the information it includes, and so I end up expecting something different from what the blurb actually told me was going to happen).

I’m not sure why I’m belaboring this so much – I think I’m trying to figure out out if/how all this affected my enjoyment of the book. I did like it – Ware is a strong writer and if Lyla wasn’t the most compelling protagonist, she was sympathetic enough, and proved to be both smart and tough as the story went on. I can’t quite shake the feeling that I wanted a slightly different story than the one I got, but I am fully clear that that’s on me, and does not reflect  on the author at all.

(One other issue that was mostly a plus but maybe a bit of a minus? – the villain is detestable. I admire how detestable the villain is and how realistically it’s portrayed. But the visceral ick the villain gave me maybe affected how I felt about the story somewhat.)

I think I’ll give The Perfect Couple a B – even more than usual this is a reflection on many disparate feelings I had about the book. Still looking forward to Ware’s next book.



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has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she’s read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she’s had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she’s not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

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