Publisher: Weidenfeld And Nicolson
Publication Date: 23rd August 2018
I had seen bits and pieces about this one on Twitter and had my head turned by that beautiful cover. When Jennifer Kerslake over at Orion offered to send me a copy I jumped at the chance. She recommended Bitter to me by Francesca Jakobi which is one of my favourite books of the year so far, so I knew I was in good hands.
This is the story of 2 sets of marriages, with completely different couples wanting completely different things out of their relationships and indeed their lives.
It’s the 1970’s and 16 year old Jane has fallen for her history teacher Mr Campbell, or Leonard. In her eyes he is everything she thinks she wants in a man, intelligent, dependable, reliable and he sets her heart racing. When her feelings are reciprocated by Leonard, they embark on a tentative relationship, one which Jane wants to take to a physical level fairly quickly (she is coming up to 18 by this point I should add). Leonard on the other hand puts the breaks on their relationship going any further as he has promised his elderly mother that he will find a partner and marry her. He is a very respectable man who wants things to be done in the traditional way.
They marry and go on to have two daughters Becca and Julia and for a while Jane is content with life. Her relationship with Leonard however starts to become a little stale, she’s not wowed by passion and has quickly, and at a young age become bogged down by the humdrum domesticity of her life.
That is until a fiery couple, Marion and Andrew and their two sons Jonathan and Robert move in next door. Jane becomes interested in their relationship, and with their children being similar ages and attending the same school, she starts to get to know the couple better.
It is clear from the outset that Marion is unsettled, always pining for her hometown in Ireland. When she disappears one day, Jane finds herself getting far more involved with the family next door than she anticipated. She’s enlisted by Andrew to help out with the boys and Jane enjoys not only caring for them but caring for Andrew too. But at what cost?
This story is told from three perspectives. Jane and Leonard as a couple, moving on to Marion and Andrew and the background story of their relationship and then Becca and Jonathan and their friendship.
If I’m honest I enjoyed Marion and Andrew’s story the most. It was the most intriguing and Marion as a character is fascinating. I would have liked a little more of the story from her perspective. A tumultuous, passionate relationship, which still couldn’t make her happy. Not even with the love of her boys, whom she adores.
When the story started I did wonder whether it would be the usual ‘young girl falls for her teacher who then takes advantage of her’ trope, but it is nothing like that at all, which made me very happy indeed. Sometimes that particular trope can get a bit samey.
The writing in the first few chapters, explaining Leonard and Jane’s burgeoning relationship was quite light and tripped along nicely, with a surface knowledge of these two characters. However as you are drawn further into the book, all of the characters gain such depth. There’s a gritty intensity that quietly builds. At times raw and compelling. I really enjoyed this journey.
What I thought was an excellent family drama turned into something completely different as it neared it’s conclusion and I was taken by surprise in a very enjoyable way.
Passionate, real, and at times heartbreaking. I would thoroughly recommend this book to you all.
Thank you as ever to Jennifer Kerslake and Weidenfeld and Nicolson for the advanced copy.
See you soon.
Bookish Chat xx