Erin wants a fresh start.
With her thirtieth birthday coming up, she’s taken a long hard look at her life (the job she hates, the wedding she just cancelled) and concluded that it’s basically a mess.
If only she knew where to begin.
A trip to her hometown in Ireland to visit her beloved grandmother is a welcome escape from her disappointments. But, there, Erin also finds an unexpected solution to her problems, in the form of a magical family heirloom. No more of the ‘what ifs’ she’s been tormenting herself with – now all she needs to do is whisper two little words and she’ll be able to see for herself what might have been, had she chosen a different path.
But as Erin gets caught up in one ‘if only’ after another, changing her life proves more complicated than expected. And she starts to realise that, by chasing dreams and searching for an easy fix, she might be missing out on what’s right in front of her…
I’m a big fan of Melanie Murphy’s YouTube channel and I really liked her first book, Fully Functioning Human (Almost), all about figuring out life in this crazy online/offline world intertwined with some of her personal experiences. Her content is full of real talk (seriously, there is no holding back) and positivity. She talks about important subjects that other people wouldn’t even touch with a ten-foot pole and, yes, it can be a little confronting at times, but mostly it’s just really empowering and helpful. This novel is her first work of fiction.
When I started reading If Only, my first reaction was: “wait… is this book about me?” Now, my name might not be Erin, I might’ve only just turned twenty-nine instead of thirty, and I might not have recently called off a wedding, but MY GOD did a lot of it feel very relatable. It almost read like a self-help book at some points, because it touched on so many things that are relevant to my life right now. And I feel like those are the same things that I see other people my age struggle with as well, so if you’re in need of a bit of a pep talk and an escape from our current situation, this is the book for you.
So here’s the deal: Erin’s on the verge of turning thirty, but she does not have her life together in the slightest. I mean, why don’t you just @ me next time, Melanie? The protagonist is in a job she doesn’t like with a boss she absolutely despises, she’s broke most of the time, she has a blog she hasn’t posted to in forever (ouch, too real), she’s not doing anything with her degree, her friend group is basically non-existent, she’s not entirely happy with how she looks and, on top of all that, she’s also not sure if she made the right decision in ending her relationship. Can you say ‘rock bottom’?
Cue her grandmother. On a trip back to her hometown in Ireland to celebrate her thirtieth birthday, Erin receives a very special gift from Granny Beglan: a magical pendant that will allow Erin to get a glimpse into the lives she could have lived if she’d made different decisions in the past. At first, Erin thinks her grandmother is having some sort of mental break, but when she gives it a go… She wakes up in a different reality that could’ve been hers had she stuck to her diet and exercise routine. And that’s basically what happens throughout the rest of the book: whenever Erin ends up in a situation that makes her wonder how much different her life could have been, she grabs hold of the pendant, thinks of the decision she could have made and *poof* she’s spending the day in a parallel life. Through doing so, she discovers the things that actually matter to her and figures out what changes she needs to make in order to live her best life.
Of course, the novel is classified as ‘uplifting literature’, so even though there is a fair bit of drama and the main character’s life is a mess, the central message is a positive one: you can take control of your own life at any given moment and create a reality that works for you. There is no use in looking back and lamenting over past decisions or mistakes; there is only now, and now is the perfect time to go after what you really want. I know, it might seem like a bit much for a work of fiction, but I promise you that that is the feeling I walked away with when I finished If Only.
Honestly, this book would’ve gotten a perfect score if it wasn’t for the fizzled out ending. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but the story loses its spark and some of its uplifting qualities when you get to the last couple of chapters. Obviously there’s a bit of a twist near the end (which I saw coming from a mile away if I’m being completely honest), and I feel like that maybe causes the narrative to drag a bit more. I also expected there to be more of a focus on the parallel lives; I thought Erin was going to live vicariously through her pendant, but that wasn’t the case at all. However! Melanie does succeed in making you forget about the world around you for a while and – in my case – take a look at your own life and start seriously considering what changes need to be made.
If you’re already a fan of Melanie, I would 1000% recommend this novel to you (even though, let’s be real, you’ve probably already read it). While I was reading, I just heard everything in Melanie’s voice (complete with delicious Irish accent, thank you very much). Even though it’s a work of fiction, you can definitely feel her personal touch in every single letter. But even if you’d never heard about her until now and you’re in need of a bit of a pick-me-up, this is the right book for you.
What are your thoughts on uplifting literature (or ‘uplit’, as it’s commonly called)? Would you read Melanie Murphy’s debut novel If Only? Let me know in the comments down below.
I hope you enjoyed reading and I’ll see you again next week with a new blog post!
Psst, want to keep up with what I’m reading? Become my friend on Goodreads.