If I Knew You Were Going To Be This Beautiful, I Would Never Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel tells the story of Katie and her friends as they grow up in Elephant Beach during the 1970’s, and they way they deal with the various issues that life after war presents.
In my opinion there doesn’t seem to be one overarching storyline, but Chicurel uses Katie to narrate the highs and lows of her and her friends’ lives. Covering teenage pregnancies and drug addiction to casual racism and death, the story is fast paced and covers various issues.
I felt that If I Knew… is well written and creates a strong sense of atmosphere, creating a snapshot of what life must have been like for those living in America during the 70’s, and I enjoyed reading about this era which seemed to be, at times, quite grim and depressing.
One of the themes explored within the novel is the effect the Vietnam War had on individuals, from the men who were sent to fight to ‘the rest’ who stayed in their homeland. Luke, who protagonist Katie is in love with and has been for years, returns home from war as a seemingly completely different person and struggles to adapt back to civilian life. It is interesting to read about this aspect of American History.
“Some people never recover, and when you think about it, that’s the more normal – the more expected reaction. And we treat them as though they’re the sick ones.
Unfortunately the characters just didn’t feel that well developed to me; although I did like the main character Katie, she actually got on my nerves a lot. I just wanted her to go and speak to Luke if she was that crazy about him! A lot of the characters came and went without evoking too much interest, and I never felt that I really understood or empathised with these characters in the way I usually do with novels – this is particularly applicable to many of the minor characters – and because of this I often got a bit confused between them all without really caring what happened to them!
Each chapter seemed like a snapshot of Katie’s life, and of general life at that time, but they didn’t seem to flow well; the story felt quite disconnected and there was almost too much going on sometimes. It moved so quickly from storyline to storyline that I often got confused about who was being discussed.
There are tonnes of stereotypical 70’s, hippie references throughout – the group of friends all smoke weed, drink, party a lot and use the words/ phrases ‘man’, ‘far out’ and ‘outasight’ plus MANY swear words such as ‘un-fucking-real’ which got a bit tiring after a while!
I thought the book was interesting in parts but it didn’t leave me feeling overly moved or impressed. However I did really like the cover design!