*** SPOILER ALERT***
The Love of my Life
Pan Macmillan, 20 Feb 2009
‘I miss him with every breath and heartbeat. He should have been my happy ending. Instead, he is the sad beginning to my story.’
“When Olivia and Luca fell in love as teenagers and eloped to London, they broke the hearts of those closest to them. Luca’s parents run Marinella’s restaurant, the colourful hub of life in an otherwise bleak seaside town, and his mother, Angela, has never forgiven Olivia for causing such a rift in her beloved family.
On a freezing January night Olivia’s life is shattered when she learns that Luca has been killed in a car accident. Left with nothing, and gripped by an overwhelming grief, Olivia abandons her job and returns home to where Luca has been buried just to be close to him – even though she knows she will not be welcome.
Facing her past and Luca’s family is not easy. When Olivia meets Luca’s married twin brother, Marc, she discovers a man experiencing a loss almost as painful as her own. Their desolation draws them into an affair which both know has no future, but fills the space where Luca should be. And when it spirals out of control, the consequences are both explosive and cruel…”
I picked this book up in the Great Oak Bookshop in Llanidloes whilst I was holidaying in Wales. It sells a large selection of both new and second hand books, and The Love of My Life is one of six books I picked up that day.
I was drawn to the book at first by the cover, and the deal was clinched by the blurb. I am a huge fan of women’s fiction, and the beautiful pink and purple sunset and blatantly in-love couple that adorned the cover appealed to me instantly. It looked like something I would enjoy reading and although the saying goes ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, the fact of the matter is that books within the same genre have a distinct style for a reason. That reason is to identify to your target market that your book is what they are looking for – this purchase (and many others) proves that this works. Heather covers this briefly in her article here, however I plan on exploring this further (with particular focus on womens’ fiction) in one of my next blog posts.
Douglas writes in first person from the P.O.V of Olivia, the protagonist. The story relies heavily on flashbacks which I liked, although I am aware that this is not everyones cup of tea. I felt like I was getting to know the character on a deep level as I learnt more and more about her. Furthermore, the switch between past and present tense was seamless and engaging, ensuring dynamic pacing throughout.
Douglas’ writing style as a whole is one of the best I have read recently. A quick scout around the internet for other reviews tells me that I am not the only one who thinks this – the Amazon rating is 4.5 stars. She uses vivid descriptions and beautiful metaphors to narrate both the setting where the novel takes place and Olivia’s feelings and emotions. It is a style that I felt very comfortable reading, and one that I didn’t feel like was hard work to understand – it was relaxing and natural.
Another thing that stood out to me was the opening and closing chapters. Douglas writes an extremely good first chapter, and an equally as excellent closing one. At the beginning, I was drawn into the story and left wanting more. At the end, I felt satisfied that all lose ends were tied up. This is exactly what I want, and indeed expect, from a good book. I am confident that Douglas delivered.
Douglas continues this compelling technique throughout the entire book. At the end of most chapters, there were questions still in need of answers, and more to learn about the characters and their circumstances. I was keen to see what happened to the characters that Douglas did an excellent job of making me care so much about – it was hard to put down.
Generally, the characters are well thought out and developed throughout the story. Douglas goes to extra length to ensure that their complicated pasts and relationships are divulged in a teasing manner, teaching the reader more about them a little at a time. This keeps things interesting. It also ensures that although Olivia has made some mistakes, and continues to make them throughout the story, you can’t help but be on her team. The story would not have been able to happen if Olivia was a stable, rational being, and I think that Douglas considered this whilst creating the character.
After scouting around for other reviews, I have noticed that although the majority of reviews are positive, there are a few out there that are anything but complimentary (pretty standard for most books really). Often, people have commented on how Olivia is unlikeable as a character, and that they do not relate to her on a moral level. In my opinion, although I agree that I do not relate to – or agree with – her moral choices in the slightest, I don’t hate her. Far from it in fact. I think this is because by the time you learn enough about her to pass judgement, you are already in her head. I think that it takes a skillful author to make a reader like a character who, on paper, is not the easiest sort of person to like – kudos to Douglas for doing just that.
In this part of the review I will be exploring an element of the book that I have some reservations about, and a component that I would like to delve further into with a less praising, more critical mind. As a writer (and reader) I feel it is important to think critically in order to learn not only for my personal benefit, but as a way of offering insightful viewpoints that may help other writers become the best they can be. Although I have used the word ‘critical’ multiple times in the preluding sentences, it is important to note that this is not something I would go as far as actually calling a criticism, as you can tell from my 4 star review, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
As the blurb states, Olivia begins an affair with her dead husbands twin brother. Not your every day event granted, but one that could potentially happen. Tick. But what strikes me as being unconvincing is how suddenly this all happens. One minute Olivia is seeing Marc for the first time in a while (at Luca’s funeral nonetheless) and the next minute she is embracing him in a kiss. I was taken aback by the suddenness of things, and how it seems to appear out of nowhere.
I am aware of the writing advice kicking around that suggests that you should dive headfirst into the action, and I think this is great. No one wants chapters and chapters of scene setting and back story. However, the speed of which Olivia and Marc’s relationship escalates is something that took me by complete surprise and has stuck with me even after finishing the story.
As a writer, I am all too aware that not much ‘just happens’ in writing. The actions your characters take and the direction in which your story goes should happen are a result of a multitude of things; your characters past, present situation, goals, pitfalls, and desires to name a few, so I am reluctant to think that Douglas just got over excited and dived into the action a little too fast. With the gift of hindsight, I pose a few explanations that seek to justify Olivia and Marc’s whirlwind romance, if not to anyone else but myself.
1. Olivia’s past + her grief-filled present = affair
Olivia is reliable and honest as a narrator yet unpredictable in her actions. Throughout the story, I feel that Douglas succeeded in giving grounds for Olivia’s questionable and oftentimes irrational actions through the use of flashbacks and memories that set her up as a character. She has had an adulterous past and a rebellious streak as a teenager. Coupled with the grief of losing her husband one may not be surprised that she acts irrationally. Additionally, her and Marc have some past together – he has been in love with her before – which goes a long way to explain the escalation on his part at the very least.
Another explanation could be that Olivia’s actions may have been fueled by her quest for revenge, whether this was conscious or subconscious I am not sure. She has been hurt by the twins’ family in the past, and even after Luca’s death they continue to alienate her – some would argue for good reason. This may have acted to propel Olivia quickly on a path that has the potential to destroy the family that never accepted her.
3. Her actions as a character do no need justifying – she is a grieving widow
Finally, one could argue that Olivia doesn’t need any reasoning at all behind her spontaneous actions, she is grieving and Marc is the closest thing to Luca she has left. That’s it.
In conclusion, whatever Douglas’s intentions, I am 99.9% convinced by the suddenness of Olivia and Marc’s relationship. The other minuscule 0.1% still thinks that the idea of jumping into bed with your dead husband’s twin soon after his funeral is unbelievable, regardless of what has happened in the past. HOWEVER, this did not stop me from enjoying the book. I continue to uphold that it is beautifully written and although I did not relate to any of the characters or situations they found themselves in (a good thing!), I cared about them – and what happened to them – enough to finish the book. I look forward to reading other titles by Douglas for sure, and I would definitely recommend this book to my friends.
If anyone else has read this book I would love to know what you thought of it. Were you as surprised by the quickness of Olivia and Marc’s relationship? Were you convinced by the characters? Did you enjoy Douglas’ writing style as much as I did? Let me know, it would be greatly appreciated to hear other opinions!