“If Only”: About the Book
How can you know someone until you learn to talk about the past?
Letty and Alf are the only English speakers in an Italian class in Rome, where they discover that the language that really connects them is dance. Alf is nineteen, a former ballroom champion who seems reassuringly confident and at ease with himself. Letty, twenty-two, is unusually reserved and studious, having been forced to give up her childhood dream of becoming a ballet dancer. They come from different worlds, but when they waltz around the Piazza Navona together, a passionate relationship begins.
Can their decision to live in the moment in the Eternal City keep their histories from encroaching? Why is Alf living in a shared apartment, estranged from his family? And what has wrenched Letty away from the apparent security of her Oxford University degree? They each find themselves haunted by the fear that the secrets not yet shared will tear them apart.
If Only is a novel about identity, secrets, passion and dance—and the indefinable collision of physical, emotional and intellectual excitement that we call falling in love.
“If Only” is a perfect example of you can’t judge its book by its cover. The author is compared to Jojo Moynes and it is easy to see why with “If Only.” Eberlen, like Moynes has created a bittersweet story with flawed characters. Their flaws not only make the characters interesting, but also drives the plot forward in ways that are surprising. Never fear, this is a feel-good story, but there are significant bumps along the way and true moments of sadness blended in. The story is told from the perspectives of Alf, Letty and Frances, Letty’s mother, making “If Only” a multi-dimensional book.
Letty and Alf do “meet cute” being the only two people from the UK in an Italian class in Rome, but it isn’t love at first site for Letty. As the two spend more time together, exploring Rome and getting to know each other better, it is clear that they are attracted to one another. It is also clear that they are both keeping secrets that will come back and haunt them later in the book. Similar to New York in “Sex and the City”, Rome almost becomes a secondary character. The setting fits the characters perfectly and Eberlen does a good job of making you feel like you are there and describing what it feels like to be an ex-pat in the city.
The book does a wonderful job of incorporating mental illness into the plot in a way that doesn’t seem forced. The attention to detail with mental illness made the story richer. Letty’s secrets are the most compelling and her story is what drives much of the suspense. She is written in such an intelligent, thoughtful way, it is impossible to not root for her. Alf is central, of course to the story, and his love for Letty always seems real. The plot from Frances’s perspective doesn’t begin until late in the book. She is an interesting character and lent a lot of authenticity to “If Only”. If there are any criticisms, and these are minor, it would have been interesting to hear from Frances earlier on. Letty and Alf seem much older than 19 and 22, so the plot may have benefited from aging them slightly.
All, in all, this was a very satisfying read and if you love a good love story, and who doesn’t, pick this one up. You won’t be disappointed.
Favourite Lines From the Book
“People lived on, not just in their genes, but in their stories. And that was such a comfort.”
Beautiful words for anyone who has ever lost someone.
“Whatever anyone tells you about the university of life, nobody gives you lessons and there aren’t exams you have to take, so we all muddle through as best we can.”
So very true.