On the last night in October 1999 the clocks went back, and Ella and Will’s love began. A teenage Ella sat around a bonfire drinking with her future husband and her oldest friend Cole. As Ella wandered away from the group, she found herself leaning against a derelict
archway before passing out. The next day, Ella remembered fractured images of a conversation with a woman in a green coat and red scarf but dismissed it as a drunken dream.
Twenty-three years later, with her marriage to Will in trouble, and Cole spiralling out of control, Ella opens a gift which turns her life upside down: a green coat and red scarf. When she looks in the mirror, the woman from the archway is reflected back at her. As the last Sunday in October arrives, Ella is faced with a choice.
Would she choose a different life, if she could do it again?
This was an interesting read from Emma Cooper, looking at how the course of our whole life can change from very small decisions and the effects of these changes on our long term relationships. Ella is married to Will with two children and a big birthday approaching when she has a strange sense of life coming full circle. She opens her birthday presents to find a coat, scarf and brooch combination she recognises. Twenty-three years earlier at a party, she strolled away from the fireside to avoid watching her crush Will kissing another girl and saw a woman wearing exactly these clothes. It was almost as if the woman was on the other side of a mirror, visible but unable to be heard. Even though Ella can’t hear her, she knows that whatever she’s trying to tell her is a warning. Now she knows that woman was definitely her future self and she can’t help but wonder exactly what she was trying to warn her about. Life has definitely changed suddenly, because as their youngest left the family home for university, Will suddenly dropped the bombshell that he was leaving. Ella knows they’ve been drifting, in fact it runs deeper than that, Ella knows that Will would not have chosen the life they’ve had. She can pinpoint every surprise and life event thrown their way that derailed the life Will would have chosen, travelling the world playing guitar in a rock band. Ella has always known that she loved Will more than he loved her, so perhaps he need to spend some time discovering what he wants the rest of his life to look like.
Emma Cooper’s last novel was an absolute tearjerker and I really loved it. She gets that everyday drudgery that is part of being a family and here she portrayed beautifully how romance is hard to maintain when there is illness, two children to look after, family crises and those little curveballs that life likes to throw into the mix every so often. Cooper structures her book around these moments in Will and Ella’s lives together, such as her sudden pregnancy in Paris that she feels derailed Will’s music career. What she forgets is that Will did have a choice too and it was a joint decision to get married and have their baby. The fact that Will was fired from the band as a result was a terrible thing to happen, but wasn’t Ella’s fault. The flashbacks worked well in explaining the present day, from Ella’s perspective but Ella isn’t the only one in the relationship and I wondered if these two had ever properly communicated with each other. The problem with not communicating is that Will is also labouring under a misapprehension; he knows that he’s always loved Ella more than she loved him and now, with both children gone, it’s time for her to think about her choices and perhaps right a wrong. Will has felt in competition with Ella’s best friend Cole for many years, even the first day he met Ella’s family Cole was already there and part of the furniture. When Ella was struggling with depression, Will was just starting his career as a music teacher and simply couldn’t be there as much as he would have liked. Cole was there, burping and changing both babies, bringing chocolate and endless energy and literally propping Ella up. He has loved Ella since they were kids and he’s the first person Ella calls when something’s wrong – like when Will walks out the door 23 years later. Cole knows that Ella loves Will, even in his worst moments dealing with family trauma and his own alcoholism he knows Will and Ella should be together. He knows the power of Will’s charisma, because he’s felt it himself. In fact he and Will have a difficult history; Will’s brother drowned when he was left alone by a river, Will was saving Cole who had jumped in. This past leaves an uneasy feeling between them and has Ella desperately trying to please them both.
I enjoyed the carefree period Will and Ella have in France with the band. Will is offered the chance of playing guitar with a band and the couple rent a small apartment where they can have privacy and live outside of that hotel environment. It takes several mornings of Ella throwing up for a neighbour to point out she might perhaps be pregnant. The thought has never entered her head, but the neighbour is right. They expect their idyllic interlude to carry on, but once they announce their news and intention to get married, Will is summoned by the band manager and sacked. Young girls like to fantasise about their rock stars and married with a baby isn’t the look he wants for the band. So the couple return to Britain and to a life that looks a little more conventional. The author really doesn’t sugar coat the experience of parenthood. I was there in that living room with Ella, dealing with a two year old and a baby. It felt dark, oppressive and a total contrast to the freedom she had in France. With Will having to put in the long hours to support his new family, Ella feels like she’s doing this alone. So when friend Cole steps in to help it feels like a lifeline. He notices that Ella is desperately unwell and it’s his insight into his friend and his willingness to help that did make me waver on whether Will really was the right person for her. I don’t think I ever fully bonded with Will as a character. I didn’t know him in the same way as Cole or Ella and I think this was to some extent about the author’s description of him. He was so good looking and even Cole admits he’s the archetypal romantic leading man – he’s the man the girl should get. I didn’t know whether the author was trying to subvert the genre and have Ella realise that the less than perfect Cole, with all his issues, is the right man for her. In fact I was unsure of what would happen right up to the very end. This is a romantic read with an edge of reality, but maybe that makes it a more contemporary fairytale.
Meet The Author
EMMA COOPER is the author of highly acclaimed book club fiction novels and is known for mixing humour with darker emotional themes. Her debut, The Songs of Us, was snapped up in multiple pre-empts and auctions and was short-listed for the RNA contemporary novel of the year award. Her work has since been translated into seven different languages.
Emma has always wanted to be a writer – ever since childhood, she’s been inventing characters (her favourite being her imaginary friend ‘Boot’) and is thrilled that she now gets to use this imagination to bring to life all of her creations. She is now also an editor for Jericho Writers, where she has worked with traditionally published authors, as well as new aspiring writers. Emma spends her spare time writing novels, drinking wine and watching box-sets with her partner of twenty-eight years, who still makes her smile every day.
2 thoughts on “It Was Always You by Emma Cooper”
Like the sound of this one.
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Yes, she really does pack some self-awareness into this as well as romance, her last novel was brilliant too x
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