I was enticed into our heroine Anya’s world for two main reasons: Glasgow is one of my favourite cities and I too had a back up man. My best friend Elliot and I made a pact when we were moving on from sixth form. He didn’t know that I was head over heels in love with him, but he was my best friend and I didn’t want to ruin anything (we did ruin things a few years later, after university, but that’s another story). So we decided that if both of us were single at the age of 40, we’d get married. Life takes strange turns and although we were still in touch, Elliot had a long term partner and three children by then and I was a widow. We’ve all had a break up or other difficult life event and been overcome with a bout of nostalgia. Sometimes what has happened to us has been so scary and life changing, it makes more sense to lapse into the past, revisiting times and people who feel safe. We’re always doing this through rose tinted spectacles forgetting the negative aspects of the relationship or memory. So I could really understand Anya’s reasoning, especially after the shock she gets on a visit to Sunday lunch at her boyfriend’s mother’s home. In fact it’s on their way home, as they drop into a Shell garage, where Callum ends their four year relationship. Because he hadn’t wanted to upset his mum by doing it sooner. So Anya is facing a massive life change. The couple live together in Callum’s flat and while he can find somewhere to stay for a few days until she gets herself together, he will want her to move out by the end of the week. What else can go wrong?
Glasgow’s west end is a beautiful setting, giving both atmosphere and warmth to the story. I love the beautiful Victorian stone homes in the area and I have imagined myself living in one of them, but they’re pricey and only for the city’s professional classes. People like Anya’s cousin Claire. It’s her sister Georgie who suggests that Claire might want a lodger. Georgie gets on better with Claire than Anya does, because Anya finds her a bit stuck up and joyless. She also dislikes her creepy partner Richard. So once her best friend Paddy has helped her move to a single mattress in Claire’s back bedroom, Anya lies there wondering if life could get any worse? Then the next day she loses her job. As she’s going through her badly packed boxes she finds her old year book from school and a note from Euan. In her final year of school, Euan and Anya had a casual connection that could perhaps have become something more had he not been going away to university. They were never officially together, so they didn’t really break up, but they did make a pact. If they are both single when they are thirty years old they will make a go of it together. In a wave of nostalgia, borne out of feeling her life has fallen apart, Anya starts to search for Euan when she’s surprised by a message from a mutual friend. Jamie has also been looking for Euan, maybe they could join forces?
For me, this romcom worked because it is so much more than a simple boy meets girl. This period of time is transformative for Anya in so many different ways. She learns so much about herself and for me that is the most interesting part of the story. She and sister Georgie live in Glasgow with their parents living out in a suburb of the city. Anya and her mother have a spiky relationship because she has very set ideas about how life should be. Anya’s favourite pastime is cooking, in fact she finds that in the week where she’s alone in Callum’s flat, the night she cooks from scratch is when she feels most relaxed. For a little while she’s been running a page on Instagram called anyaeatstoomuch and her friend Paddy suggests that she could develop this hobby into a business. So she starts to look into turning it into a catering company, but in the meantime her mum isn’t going to let her sit around feeling sorry for herself. She finds her a job looking after the granddaughters of a woman she knows, their mother is working as a beauty influencer. These terrible twins are brilliant comic relief, being both unruly and sneaky, but subdued by Anya’s incredible food. It could be a complete waste of her time, or it could provide opportunities.
This is just one of the things that Anya has to learn. She can’t continue to drift and let life happen to her, she has to take control to get the life she wants. There was a sense of mystery too, in the search for Euan and the dead ends they find but I also wondered about Jamie. His interest legitimises Anya’s search, just when everyone else is telling her she’s behaving like a crazy person. I could understand her need to look back when everything else is falling apart, but what was Jamie’s reason for looking for Euan? I was also concerned about Claire’s fiancé Richard. He’s very furtive, lurking around corners and exercising his ability to soundlessly appear in the room. Their relationship also teaches Anya something important, just because someone’s life looks perfect it doesn’t mean it is. We all show a very edited version of life on social media and the reality is often very different. Another lesson is that having everything you want – the fiancé, the West End house, the great career – doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happy. It’s all these bits of learning and the potential growth Anya could make in her emotional life and career that really make this story. I was rooting her her to make the right choices, survive the terrible twins and forge an exciting life for herself, whether a man is involved or not.
Published 19th January 2023 by Penguin
Meet The Author
Phoebe Luckhurst is a journalist and author, who has written for publications including the Evening Standard, ES Magazine, ELLE, Grazia, Sunday Times Style, Guardian, Telegraph and Grazia. The Lock In is her first novel and this is her second.
2 thoughts on “The Back Up Man by Phoebe Luckhurst.”
This looks like a fun read – thank. you for the detailed review. I’m going to look for this one!
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Yes it is, quite a quick one too. X