What do I say about a book that I read in one single sitting without ever putting it down because it’s so well written and enticing to read, but I don’t really know what I feel about the characters. It’s a very realistic emotional read while being equally frustrating and I don’t think I’ve ever struggled so much to rate a book.
Mary is such a realistic portrayal of the lives of so many women that it just pained me to read her story. Due to her childhood abandonment issues, she chose a life of safety and contentment over that of love and passion and has spent the next two decades dedicating herself to the welfare of her family. Her work revolves around making sure her husband is successful without ever getting credit for her massive contribution and her home life is all about making sure her kids, her mother and mother-in-law are happy, irrespective of her feelings on any matter. Even after the disastrous way she learns about her husband’s affair and the subsequent divorce, it falls to her to keep the peace, make sure the kids don’t lose their father and co-exist happily with her husband’s new partner.
I can understand the responsibility that Mary feels towards her family and wanting to make sure that her kids are able to get through the divorce and the new reality without a lot of hostility. But she suppresses every part of her personality and her heart for this to happen; she is essentially a doormat for most part of the book and I hated it. I hated it more because it’s also very accurate and hit quite close to home and I guess I just wanted her to finally reach for her happiness instead of settling for what others expected of her. It takes a long time for her to realize her own worth, decide that she deserves her own life outside of her family and even though she does change her mind later, I thought it was too late in the book and I was already on the verge of exasperation.
The major problem I had with the book is that I disliked most of the other characters. Her ex-husband Leo is a selfish, lying, cheating, manipulative jerk and I didn’t like that he got everything that he wanted in life, but never really had to answer for any of his wrongs. He is never called out, Mary never confronts him and she doesn’t even really think that he has wronged her, and is happy to remain his friend. I was very disappointed with this take that a man can get away with anything and a woman will forgive him. Mary’s mother felt very condescending and kept reminding her to choose her family and keeping everyone happy over her own life. Her mother-in-law seemed like she wanted more for Mary but she never tells it outright and when she does, I again thought it was too late. Mary’s 14-year old daughter Ava is supposed to be a typical parent-hating teenager, but I especially disliked that she showed so much disrespect towards her mother who did so much for her, while seeming to accept her father’s decisions so easily. Her son Jonas is the only one in the household who seems to care how his mother feels and though he speaks very less, he definitely succeeds in conveying his support for her. And her brother-in-law Ethan is the one person who tries very hard to poke and prod and provoke her to realize that there is more to life than feeling contented and encourages her to come out of her shell and let herself fly.
The writing is seamless to get through and it felt very hard to put down. Every single character and emotion is portrayed very close to reality and that’s what made it such a difficult read. The feel of a small town and it’s dynamics are captured very well and I could really feel being in the setting. There is also a whole subplot about a Victorian author Alice Hornby and Mary’s adoration of her writing which I thought was done really done well. I could totally feel the love that Mary had for books and the bookstores she visits are described beautifully, especially Archer’s and I felt totally transported to those places.
If you like realistic fiction with very accurate true to life portrayals of characters, then I think you will enjoy this one more than I did. I just didn’t feel satisfied with the end and also with the way everyone got away with their lies and manipulations. I also think I just wanted Mary to be more assertive and decisive earlier in the book and I definitely would have loved an epilogue to finally see that she is truly happy.
PS: Thank you to Netgalley and Avon Books for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed are solely mine and unbiased.