Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review: Emily Giffin's "Something Borrowed," or Why Do I Insist onHaving a Torrid Affair Every Summer?

In which Sam rants about her summer book choices, raves about Emily Giffin's debut novel, and realizes once again how much she judges books by their cover.

Something about summer makes me lazy and self-indulgent (****speaking of laziness this review is a day late****), whether it's the warm sunshine, the long blue twilights, or the sudden ubiquity of swinging hammocks begging me to lie down and grab a good novel. This laziness extends to my book choices, and there is no season like summer for encouraging me to simply re-read my favorites rather than brave a brand-new book.

One of my summer standards for a long time has been Emily Giffin's Something Borrowed - I've already talked about it in an earlier Top Ten Tuesday list for its absolutely abysmal 2011 film adaptation

"Maybe something interesting is happening over there."
The only good part of that movie was John Krasinski. Luckily, there are lots of good parts to the book. The basic premise, revealed both on the book jacket and in the first chapter (so I'm not giving too much away!) revolves around the intense friendship dynamic between best friends Rachel White and Darcy Rhone. Rachel, the protagonist, turns thirty at the start of the novel, and reflects on her long friendship with the vivacious, vibrant Darcy throughout the novel. Rachel views herself as the Plain Jane of the pair - the good girl, the Rhoda to Darcy's Mary (if you're too young for the Mary Tyler Moore Show reference, how about the Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion version?) Then she does something very out of character: Rachel goes home with Darcy's fiancé after her 30th birthday party, and they spend the night together. 

And it's not all beers and booth banter, either! ... Ladies.
The ensuing affair is torrid and Giffin spends a great deal of time in the details, wading into the full sensory experience of falling for your best friend's fiancé. But more importantly - and more intriguingly - Giffin focuses the reader's attention on the relationship between Rachel and Darcy.

Pictured: Friendship...maybe.
How much competition in a friendship is too much? When does it become unhealthy and destructive - and when does it challenge us to better ourselves? How much do we accept about our friends - and how much should we accept from them? Do we accept them for a mixture of extroversion and thoughtlessness, accepting their careless backhanded compliments and borderline-cruel insensitivity, so long as they are not malicious? Do we accept their self-righteous proclamations, or their ideas of intellectual superiority? 

And what about dancing superiority?
Rachel struggles with some of these issues with Darcy, and as a reader, you may find yourself asking a few of these questions of Rachel as the narrator. Though she may not have Darcy's thoughtless, callous wit, Rachel always attempts to stand on the moral higher ground, even when the sands are shifting beneath her. The reader may wonder what that looks like to Darcy and whether it ever feels as hurtful as Darcy's own strident sensibilities. Readers desperate for an answer can look to the sort-of sequel, Something Blue - beware, the Goodreads summary of this sequel will give away the ending of Something Borrowed.

More John Krasinski!
The primary reason I go back to Something Borrowed again and again, despite knowing the ending, is it forces me to ask these questions of myself as well: are my relationships healthy? Are my friendships healthy? The mirror of Darcy and Rachel's friendship forces the reader to face truths about her own friendships, and wonder whether, given the chance, she would make the same choice Rachel did.

The other reason I go back? The summer setting, the hot nights, and the legal references - Rachel is an attorney, and there are flashbacks to law school. It is in every sense of the word a summer read, and the emotional drama so powerfully fleshed out, so consuming, that in reading it I am immediately transported to a summer in New York, anxiety in my stomach as I face down my thirtieth birthday with my best friend, who has always outshone me and is doing it again tonight ... and just like that I fall into to Giffin's world.

If you manage to become hooked on Something Borrowed, her other books often link up to the same universe, including Something Blue and The Heart of the Matter.






  1. You know, I never expected to love Emily Giffin the way I do. And man, it's so intense! My first time picking up one of her books I was like...WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO MY HEART YOU EVIL WOMAN. I was expecting fluffy chick lit (clearly I'd never read anything on the subject of Emily Giffin). I loved this book. I wish I loved the sequel, but I just didn't. It's the only book I've read by her so far that I didn't really, really like. I didn't hate it, but it was just..ok.

    This is definitely not something I'd put under lazy fun time summer read hahahaha. I like rereading under stress, so summer for me is usually more about new books.

  2. I absolutely adore this book and have read it several times as well. Emily Giffin's writing is simply stunning. I love how deeply into Rachel and Darcy's friendship this book delves. Women's friendships really are complex things and Emily Giffin really does a spectacular job bringing this one to life. I'm always bummed when people focus on the cheating aspect and how they could never like a book about cheating. You just want to say, "it's so much more than that. Not everything is black and white."...or maybe that's just me.

    I couldn't even watch the movie. I seriously got about 20 minutes in before turning it off. It was beyond horrible and I didn't want it to tarnish my love for the book.

    Great review!


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