I love that when I pick up a Rachel Marks book, I’m straight into someone’s life and character. It’s an immediate feeling of kinship with our main character, we trust them and the story they’re telling us. In this case, our storyteller is Noah, a primary school teacher in this thirties, divorced with two small boys he sees every other weekend. Noah loves his job, loves his boys and is still in love with ex-wife Kate. Kate now lives with Jerry and Noah can’t believe that she’s in love with this ordinary, boring bloke. Kate and Noah were together forever, from friends to a very young husband and wife, then parents. So what went wrong? Kate probably knows Noah better than anyone and still loves and cares for him, but felt she had to save herself and leave the relationship. The truth is there are times when Noah checks out, he would need to take a break or sometimes disappear with no indication of when he was coming back. Just as Noah is concerned with giving children a good start in life, as a father and a teacher, he knows that his own start in life plays a large part in who he is and how he behaves. Can he continue to be a good teacher, father and partner without confronting that past and coming to terms with it?
As in her last novel, Rachel Marks has a good grasp of how our minds work and how we often self-medicate the pain of trauma. For Noah, this is often alcohol just as it was for his mother all those years ago. He is often propping up the bar of his local, chatting up women and indulging in a few one night stands, watched with some frustration by barmaid Mimi. His journey is mirrored in the experiences of one of his pupils, Harvey. Harvey’s having problems with his behaviour at school, often lashing out or unable to stop himself interrupting with excitement. He says his Mum sleeps a lot, but the reasons for that are unclear at first. It takes something drastic for Noah to see the extent of what is going on in Harvey’s world, but it also awakens a trauma from long ago. Noah is a character who knows all the reasons for the way he is, but doesn’t know the next step – to free himself from the past. He is full of confusion and does some really stupid things, but he is always loveable and I found myself rooting for him. Mimi was also a great character, sassy and whip smart, she can see through Noah’s bullshit but also genuinely cares about him. She tries to teach him that we all have our ‘stuff’ to come to terms with, we just have to find our way of doing it.
I loved his relationship with Kate too. She knows him inside out and I could sense the great regret and frustration within her that she had to break up their family. She knows Jerry isn’t going to be full of excitement and surprises, but that’s exactly why they’re together. She wants that stability for herself and for her boys. She’s still full of sadness and thinks she wasn’t enough for Noah, but the truth is that no one would have been able to cope with his behaviour and a young family. She wanted her love to heal the scars of the past, but only Noah can do that. The wonderful way she respects him as the father of her children, holds parties for him and still has family outings is the very model of what we hope our blended families could be like. Sadly, I think it’s very rare for ex-husbands and wives to be able to work together as well as this. Noah doesn’t really see the love that Kate has for Jerry, but it’s definitely there. There’s the sense of exhaustion I get from her life with Noah, and the way that Jerry conducts himself with grace and dignity and it’s clear what a strong and equal relationship they have.
This is a gorgeous, uplifting book, that has its hard moments but is ultimately full of love. I loved the children in the book, their personalities so perfectly evoked and full of humour. There are difficult memories and moments, but Noah is surrounded by love to call on once he can admit what’s wrong. I loved how Marks shows that there may often be reasons behind a character’s behaviour – Noah struggles to get along with his sister-in-law Claudia, but Mimi immediately sees that there’s a lack of confidence underneath the polished exterior and perfectionism. It made me come away thinking about how to appreciate those around me more, even if we do clash or have different ways of living. The book had the message to love and be kind all the way through it, like a stick of well-being rock.
Out 29th April 2021 from Penguin Books
Meet The Author
Rachel lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and two young sons. When she’s not writing, she loves travelling, snowboarding and photography.
If you would like updates on upcoming books, offers etc you can follow me on Twitter @Rache1Marks and Instagram rachelmarksauthor.