Published by Michael Joseph, 1st April 2021.
Nick and Anna work the same summer job at their local cinema. Anna is mysterious, beautiful and from a very different world to Nick.
She’s grown up preparing fot the end of days, in a tightly-controlled existence where Christmas, getting drunk and sex before marriage are all off limits.
So when Nick comes into her life, Anna falls passionately in love. Their shared world burns with poetry and music, cigarettes and conversation – hints of the people they hope to become.
But Anna, on the cusp of adulthood, is afraid to give up everything she’s ever believed in and everyone she’s ever loved. She walks away and Nick doesn’t stop her.
Years later, a tragedy draws Anna back into Nick’s life.
But rekindling their relationship leaves Anna and Nick facing a terrible choice between a love that’s endured decades, and the promises they’ve made to others along the way.
Wow! I expected a love story and received so much more from this wonderful read. Jodie Chapman has managed to capture all of life’s stages as we to and fro through the years with Anna and Nick. Told mainly by Nick, we begin on Christmas Eve in NYC 2018, then we tumble back through the years: to when he meets Anna; to his childhood years and everything beyond. Everything we come to learn about Nick’s personality, his closed off manner and inability to let anyone close, is made clear by one childhood event. So dreadful and emotional that it brought me up short. I had to close the book for a moment to process it and think about what such a loss could do to a young boy.
Nick and Anna first meet in their early twenties, while working at their local cinema. In the heat soaked days of summer 2003, their love burns with a similar intensity, as only young love can. They seem opposites. Nick is quiet and has a solidity to his character. Anna is more intense and emotion driven. These differences could balance each other out, but instead they mean the relationship never fully catches light. Anna’s fervency could come from her deeply religious upbringing. Her beliefs are strong and part of her, not just as a religion but as a culture, a way of being. If she’s to throw that life away she doesn’t just lose her church, she loses her friends, her family, her certainty in the way she sees the world. Only promises of Nick’s real feelings could persuade her to let go of these ties. Yet Nick isn’t built for such intensity of feeling. His calmness and solidity come from a place of not wanting to feel such extremes of emotion. He closes off just when Anna needs assurances. It is a short lived romance that never fully gets off the ground. Yet, this is not the last time they will meet, as they are thrown together again several times over a lifetime.
Love in all its forms is celebrated here, not just romantic love, but sibling love, family love, and love of a religion or way of life. Nick and his brother Sal have such a special relationship, condensed into that opening section, which is set in Manhattan. Nick pours a lifetime of shared love and memories into just a few pages and it grabs you, it pulls you into the story. In a way Sal is more like Anna, more fiery and quick to share his thoughts and feelings. Despite this difference in their characters the brothers are very close. We’re taken deeper into their lives together later in the novel, almost as if Nick has had to take the time to open up to the reader. These chapters are infused with nostalgia for the late eighties and early nineties – probably because I was a teenager back then, but also because they have the feel of faded home movies and I could almost here the sound of an old-fashioned projector running in the background. The author lulls us into a sepia toned dream and then shatters our emotions again as we revisit that terrible life changing event, but in greater detail. We see that this has affected both brothers, but in different ways. It also feels like one of those moments where everything clicks into place and our understanding of Nick’s behaviour and personality opens up completely.
I understood the young Anna well, because I was brought up within the confines of religion. My primary school years were spent partly in Catholic school and I made my first communion and confession, then inexplicably my Mum jumped to an evangelical church which became all encompassing. It was our Sundays, then weekly prayer meetings, house group, youth group and social events. In hindsight I was being indoctrinated and at times my parents actually scared me, because their behaviour was so out of character. If I liked a boy, my head would start whirling with how much my parents might disapprove, how they would act, the constant teaching of purity and dating exclusively within the faith and its rules. Often I found myself in the painful position of ‘just friends’ with someone I really liked, because I was too frightened to go out with them. I understood that Anna needed to hear more about how Nick felt. Did he love her? She couldn’t wait and let things play out because she didn’t have the freedom.
Personally, I realised that I needed to face whether or not I believed in this system of religion, independent from my parents. Not for a relationship, but for me. Then, although we didn’t always agree, I could make my own life choices based on my moral compass and not someone else’s. This is something Anna needed to learn too, whether she wanted that religious life or something different for herself in the future, because within some religions there is no compromise. I did appreciate the author’s autobiographical influence here, because I learned more about the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their faith. It gave me a more nuanced picture than I had previously and helped me understand Anna’s choices. I also loved the touch of having Anna’s emails and poems throughout, because it is the only way we hear her voice unmediated by Nick.
The background of Nick’s parents marriage was a great addition to the novel, because it shows us how two very different people can be together. Eve is one of those people whose warmth can light up a room. She’s also keenly intelligent, not just intellectually but emotionally too. She can definitely read the men in her life. Her husband Paul is hard to like, because he’s more austere and can be unpredictable. It’s as if he’s resentful of something, and while it’s hard to understand what that might be at first, Nick does eventually discover why his father was so difficult. From the outside, people would shake their heads and wonder why this couple are together and how the relationship works. Marriage is a secret room, and only the two people inside it truly have the key to open its door. This book also feels like a key. A key to the inside of Nick and how he sees his life and relationships. A privileged and rare look into how he truly thinks and feels, but only for those who open it’s pages. I feel very lucky to be one of those few and I hope you will too.
Meet The Author
Born and raised in England, Jodie spent a decade as a photographer before returning to her first love of writing. She lives in Kent with her husband and three sons. Another Life is her first novel, coming April 2021.