I am a big fan of Adele Park's writing. She is a chick lit author with an edge. She isn't afraid to take a different view to many other authors of the genre and tackle issues such as the subject of this book, where the female lead character doesn't want children and the male lead character does.
Natalie and Neil have been married for 5 years and their marriage seems pretty idyllic. They agreed on the important things in life, including the decision to not have children.
Natalie's meticulous planning of his 35th birthday party has been an overall success, although all her planning and organising couldn't have prepared her for his shock announcement that evening. He wants them to start a family. Initially passing it off as the drink talking, Natalie starts to realise that he was deadly serious. The battle begins, Neil trying to convince Natalie that her clock is ticking and Natalie remaining resolute that her decision is final.
With the battle raging on at home, Natalie visits her parents, initially planning on asking for advice, but a request from her parents to clear out some old items uncovered her 'little black book' and for some reason she is compelled to look up some old flames. This is where the book gets very weird. While Natalie is out meeting up with her exes, Neil befriends a stripper who he feels understands him and his desire for a family.
As Natalie continues with her walk down memory lane, her real reasons for not wanting children are revealed. I was surprised when this was revealed. There had been a few hints and I thought I had it figured out, but my guesses were completely wrong. I can understand her reasons, but if I'm honest, I had hoped for something juicier.
I did enjoy this book, although the story was a little surreal in places, such as Neil's friendship with the stripper and her young child. The main story of this book seems to be the importance of communication in a relationship and not to keep secrets from your partner, though I did find the separate lives and the disintegration of the relationship slightly unbelievable, but I guess this can and does happen in real life. I also didn't enjoy the ending - it was a bit too happy ever after for me, but I guess that was the only conclusion that the book could come to.
I have read some of Park's other books, and this is a bit weak compared to them, but it's still a good read, and ideal for summer holiday reading.
I found this book in Sainsbury's, and while the sticker said £1.99, it scanned at £1 and who was I to argue? It is also available from amazon and other retailers for around £2 - £3
This was a surprising read, and I don't want to insult your average chick-lit book by saying that it was surprisingly good 'for a chick-lit,' as many are very well-written. There are elements of the average formula apparent, but it's rather more, dare I say it, 'literary' than most. In fact, it was surprisingly similar in structure and narrative style to 'One Day' by Paul Nicholls; it's just a shame that his novel was labelled a 'literary sensation,' whereas this one has had the always slightly patronising 'chick-lit' label assigned to it.
In fact, the blurb on the back cover doesn't really do the story itself justice, as it talks about how Nat and Neil thought they were made for one another and then he decides he wants a baby and she doesn't, so she starts delving into her past to ensure that none of her ex's were 'the One.' In fact, this is rather more sensitive and profound than simply a woman looking for Mr Right.
The story is told in the third person, and Adele Parks makes a very good attempt at relaying events from the perspective of both male and female characters, particularly from that of the two protagonists. She builds up a wonderfully vivid portrayal of their lives together; a life that may be viewed as mundane from an outsider's perspective, but which is full of love and affection on both sides, and the detail with which she depicts their everyday life makes their story all the more convincing.
The fact that you end up knowing so much about Nat and Neil and how much they care for one another makes what happens next so much more real, and heartbreaking, beginning with Neil realising he wants a baby and Nat refusing to even entertain the idea. This fundamental lack of agreement over such a big issue, coupled with a refusal on both sides to communicate about it, leads to them starting to move gradually in separate directions, and directions which will only end in hurt and upset in the long run.
This is a more serious storyline than you might expect from looking at the front cover, and its tagline: She thought he was definitely The One. But what about the one before? It's also very well characterised and there's a hard, sexual edge to it which I found refreshing.
Having said that, Parks does seem to do a better job of portraying Nat and her mother than she does either Neil or Nat's father. The male characters seem to stick slightly too closely to their safe, masculine stereotypes and this was something I found a bit disappointing. I also found Nat to occasionally be very frustrating, and in a partially inexplicable way. I'm not sure that the way she reacted to Neil was always entirely realistic. Still, who's to say how anyone might react in the same situation?
Another slightly weak point is that there is a bit too much description on occasions. A degree of subtlety in describing the life Nat and Neil lead would be useful sometimes, rather than just having long paragraphs specifically dedicated to description.
On the other hand, I do like the fact that she gives insight into characters' thoughts when they have conversations or arguments. These seem believable and go some way towards explaining the characters' reactions to things. Sometimes I felt I knew too much more about Nat than what she was telling Neil though, which led to my feelings of frustration in her not being honest with him.
In short, this is a complex, well-written story about believable characters, which goes off track sometimes but is generally well worth a read. Highly recommended, to both sexes!
Nat is utterly secure in her marriage to Neil and is sure that they are ideally suited. They like the same things, have the same interests and don't want kids. Ever. So it comes as one hell of a shock when Neil decides that actually, he wants to become a father. This bombshell turns Nat's world upside down and she starts to question whether Neil is really the One after all. After finding her Black Book from when she was younger, she finds herself contacting previous boyfriends to see whether she made the right choice with Neil ... hence the title of 'Men I've Loved Before'.
The main characters are unsurprisingly Nat and Neil and we see things from both their viewpoints as they struggle to cope with the effects that Neil's change of heart has on their marriage. Nat is absolutely adamant that she will not change her mind on this issue and for some of the book, I was annoyed that she didn't seem to be paying much attention to his reasons for changing his mind (until her own reasons are made more clear) and set about contacting a large proportion of her exes instead. This was largely offset by Neil's persistent behaviour (which wasn't particularly favourable either, although I'll refrain my saying more to avoid giving plot spoilers away), which although I could understand where he was coming from, he wasn't helping the situation either. In short, both characters annoyed me at certain points of the book but at the same time, both were realistic and still likeable and I can imagine that in a situation like the one that they find themselves in, people don't always behave in exemplary fashion!
Other characters in the book include womanising Karl (Neil's best friend and colleague who is completely unable to be faithful), Tim (another friend of Neil's, whose wife Ali is obsessed with getting pregnant and sharing all of the gory details, which I find quite amusing but as we see it from Nat's viewpoint, it's supposed to be annoying and frustrating), Jen (Nat's friend/Karl's girlfriend, who thinks of nothing other than weddings), Nina & Brian (Nat's parents) and Fi & Ben (Nat's in-laws). There are some interesting characters in that lot who have quite good sub-plots but it's largely glossed over in favour of Nat's predicament, which is a bit of a shame.
The book is written in the third person and focuses on both Nat and Neil. It's chatty and largely informal as you'd probably expect from a chick lit book.
Although the book is titled 'Men I've Loved Before', the plot largely concentrates on the aftermath of Neil's decision that he wants a family and the efforts that Nat makes to get in touch with and catch up with old flames is a part of this but not the main deal (and Neil's coping mechanisms are given as much attention in the plot) so in that respect, it's a strange choice of title. I've read a few books by Adele Parks now and they are fall into the same category for me - I find them perfectly readable and there's nothing particularly wrong with them but I wouldn't rush to rave about them. For me, they tend to be solid chick lit books that don't stand out and this is the same. I don't mean that this is a bad book by any means but it just didn't leave me riveted and I was quite happy to put the book down and not pick it up days on end, which is always the sign of a so-so book for me.
Nat and Neil have it all worked out, they are happily married, are financially solvent and have a wonderful group of friends. They also agree that they do not want a child to upset this hard worked for harmony. Or do they?
At a birthday meal which Nat has immaculately planned for Neil he has an epiphany and decides that he does want a child. Nat passes this off as a silly phase but as Neil becomes more and more infatuated with the idea, she begins to question whether they are really meant to be together.
The two begin to drift their separate ways, Neil going on excessive boys nights out with his less desirable friends and Nat working through her little black book, arranging clandestine meetings with her exes in order to establish where she thinks she has gone wrong.
This chasm in their understanding of each other begins to spiral out of control in actually quite surprising ways and reaches crescendos which mean that they may never reach any kind of understanding and will get torn apart.
This is the first book that I have read by Parks and I have to say that I was very impressed by it. The characters were well drawn and engaging. There are also some genuine surprises to be found in the plot development of both Nat and Neil. In particular, when looking at the synopsis you could have a good fathom as to the course this story would take but it does not disappoint the reader liek that.
Parks has a really good light touch with her writing but it never feels too lightweight or frivolous. I did get to the stage where I really couldn't put it down as I felt invested in the characters. There was also a real sense of believability about the characters, particularly in how their close knit group of friends was portrayed.
As mentioned before, whilst the plot developments are surprising somehow they are managed in such a way that they never feel too contrived or out of keeping with what we know about the characters themselves.
It also has a really nice vein of humour running through it however that does not mean that it does not know how to handle the sadder events and revelations that come out through the story.
It is well paced and I cannot remember feeling bored throughout it, I even got into it quite easily at the beginning. Also, whilst the protagonists are quite well off, you get the real sense then when it comes down to affairs of the heart and parenthood all of the wealth and security do not really mean very much.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book and would definitely look Parks up again as an author that I would like to read from.
Neil and Nat thought that their relationship was a match made in heaven. They are both deeply in love, and have both decided that they don't want children. But when Neil suddenly springs on Nat that he actually does want to start a family with his wife after all, she's distraught. She thought that their life together was perfect and that nothing would be a threat to their marriage. Nat starts to doubt everything about her relationship with Neil, and on a trip back to her parents, discovers her "Little Black Book" containing all the numbers of her ex-boyfriends. It makes Nat wonder if Neil really is 'The One', and if not, who is? And how is Neil going to cope with the fact his wife doesn't want his children? Does it mean the end for their perfect marriage?
I haven't read anything by Adele Parks for years. I remember reading something of hers a while ago when I just started reading chick lit but I didn't get on with it, and so I tended not to pick up anything by her again because I wasn't as open minded with books as I am nowadays! When I heard that Adele Parks had moved publishers, and that this was being touted as her best book yet, I was determined to give it a go and hoped that I'd like it. This is the author's 10th book and has been combined with a massive publicity drive so I was sure there had to be something there for me to enjoy, and I was right... it makes me wonder what other Adele Parks books I've missed out on in the past because this one was brilliant!
The book begins introducing us to a very happy Nat and Neil. I like the way Parks gives us a good look at the characters before the want of a family sets in, because this way we can see how it affects their lives, and we get to know more about the characters too. Nat was very likeable and made for a good leading character for the book. I liked how the marriage affected Nat, it felt very realistic and we got to see all the emotions Nat went through, from anger, upset, disbelief and finally sorrow. Parks puts across the emotions of these characters very well, and it made the novel quite emotional. I also liked how the story for Nat's not wanting children was approached too, very cleverly done and a real surprise for the reader when it's finally revealed.
I expected to like Neil but actually found him quite dislikeable as the book went on. I found myself feeling very sorry for him when he realises his wife doesn't want to have his children, but as the twists and turns go on throughout the book, I decided that I didn't like him very much! I enjoyed that Parks changed my opinion of this character as the book went on, and by the end again I was feeling different again. This book certainly plays on your emotions, and you feel them along with the characters too, despite the right and wrong things that they both do. I liked how both of these characters are quite flawed, and how the longing for something forces them to do things they would otherwise not have done. It gives a great drama to the book because you can feel something bad is going to happen, and you're just waiting to find out what it is.
I actually found that the book reminded me quite a bit of Emily Giffin's novel 'Baby Proof'. That book also focussed on a woman who didn't want children and the affect that had on her relationships. If you've read that book, it'll certainly remind you of this one but not in a bad way. What I liked about Men I've Loved Before is that it didn't just focus on the issue of children throughout the book. We also get to see Nat meeting her past boyfriends, and how this affects her too. It made for a quite exciting read because I was just waiting for Neil to find out about what Nat is doing and how he would react, and I liked the tension this created.
In fact, the book is very well written throughout, and while there are quite a few things going on at once, it was an easy read and one I didn't want to put down. I liked how Parks used the third person when she was writing the book, because this allows the reader to flit between Neil and Nat quite easily, and keeps your interest in the story. The final few chapters were brilliant and the tension that Parks created was the perfect climax for the story. I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book, and would definitely recommend it!
ISBN: 978-0755371259. Published by Headline Review in July 2010. Pages: 384. Hardback RRP: £12.99
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thank you for reading.