This romantic comedy had an unusual premise, but first attracted me because of the cover! I have a tattoo exactly the same on my lower back with a quote from Jane Eyre, so I was interested to know why the image represented the book.
Our female protagonist, Anna, is in the throes of grief after the death of her husband. The plot hinges on an interesting device – Anna calls her dead husband’s phone number and weirdly, someone answers. A tentative friendship develops allowing her to explore the anger, numbness, false starts and maelstrom of emotions as she rebuilds her life after such a huge loss. The first call happens on a New Years Eve just over two years since Anna lost Spencer. She has been coerced by her friend Gaby to go to a party and is suffering just one of several attempts over the last few months to set her up with a nice man. Of course whenever Anna meets someone new, it’s like a klaxon goes off in her head screaming ‘not Spencer’ over and over again. On this night Anna flees the party and heads for the comfort of home and for emotional support she rings Spencer’s mobile number, thinking that hearing his voice on the answerphone will reassure her. However, instead of hearing Spencer’s voice, a strange man comes on the line saying ‘ I beg your pardon’.
As more weeks pass and Anna feels so scared of leaving Spencer behind and living in the moment, she continues to call the number and talk to the man at the end of the phone. A friendship starts to emerge between her and the man who has inherited Spencer’s old number. His name is Brody and Anna starts to realise she is not the only one who wants to live in the past. Brody gives Anna the space to grieve. He doesn’t know Spencer so he has no vested interest or conflicting opinion to intrude on Anna’s grief process. In this way he acts rather like a therapist with empathy, zero judgement and a hope Anna will get through this. Other people in her life either want Anna to move forward when she is not ready, or to wallow in grief. Her friends seem to think two years is enough time to start moving forward and although they are well-meaning their interventions annoy Anna and push her too far too soon. Spencer’s mother Gayle wants to envelop Anna in her grief process. She assumes that because they both loved Spencer, their grieving process is the same. Anna keeps up their tradition of Sunday lunch together, just like when Spencer was alive, but also pores over old photo albums and still wants them to mark anniversaries like his birthday together. In her presence Anna becomes suffocated by grief and guilt when she thinks about moving on with her life. Anyone new in Anna’s life would seem like an insult to Gayle. There is nowhere she can do this grieving thing her way, honestly and openly.
My counselling supervisor used to say that if you find yourself giving the same piece of advice to several clients, it may be something you should look at for your own life. This is definitely the case with Brody, as he gives Anna advice he could do with listening to. Brody is living an isolated existence on Dartmoor with his dog. He allows Anna’s emotions to take the lead in their phone calls, but doesn’t seem keen to divulge his own. I started to wonder why he is living the life of a hermit. What is he hiding away from? Between Brody and her best friend Gabi, Anna starts to feel she can gather all these broken fragments of herself together and start to rebuild. The author found a unique structure for the novel, that allowed Anna’s raw grief to find its voice in these late night phone calls. Brody becomes Anna’s closest friend and with Gabi’s help, she now has hope and a way forward that is so uplifting for the reader. Both the main characters have such moving stories they bring a lump to the throat and their journey through grief is brilliantly rendered by the author. She shows us that each person’s grief is individual, it has its own path with unique highs and lows. She also depicts something I often say to – you can’t get round or climb over grief, the only way out is through it. I could see Anna reaching for the other side of her pain and I found myself wishing for Brody to find his way out too.
What a beautifully written account of grief this is. I was moved and uplifted, and the experience of grief felt very authentic. So what about the cover image and that tattoo? My husband died in 2007 and I rushed my grief journey, only to end up in an abusive relationship that took three years to leave. So, on my fortieth birthday I had my birdcage tattoo and underneath the words from Jane Eyre ‘ I am no bird; and no net ensnares me’. It reminds me I can get through anything so it feels like a fitting image for Anna and Brady’s story.
Meet the Author
Fiona Lucas is an award-winning author of contemporary women’s fiction. The Last Goodbye is her first novel written under this name, but she’s been writing heartwarming love stories and feel-good women’s fiction as Fiona Harper for more than a decade. During her career, she’s won numerous awards, including a Romantic Novel Award in 2018, and chalked up a no.1 Kindle bestseller. Fiona lives in London with her husband and two daughters