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Not long ago, Louise Douglas was an author I'd never heard of, and I have read two of her books, one of which I loved, and the other left me a bit disappointed. I decided to be fair and give her another chance, and thankfully I discovered that in this book, "Missing You", she is at her best again.
Sean is devastated when his wife, Belle, tells him she has met someone else and she wants to end their marriage. He's a nice guy who tries hard to please his wife but she never seems happy with what she's got. Fen works in a second hand bookshop and looks after her son, Connor, who has cerebral palsy. She is haunted by a secret she has kept since she was a teenager, and leads a very isolated life which is dedicated to her son. Through a mutual friend, Sean finds out that Fen is looking for a lodger and he decides to move in until he gets things sorted in his personal life. He also has a daughter, Amy, who comes to stay at weekends, and gets on well with Fen's son. The longer they live together, the more their affection for one another grows, and they soon find themselves falling for each other. But, will Sean's wife throw a spanner in the works, and will Fen's secret allow her to open up and let Sean into her life? Well to find out, you'll have to read it of course!
The two main characters in this book are very likeable, although I found myself warming to Fen initially more than Sean. This could be because I'm a woman and so naturally found it easier to empathise with her, but I think Sean's character takes a little time to develop and I wasn't sure what to make of him at first. The book is written in the third person, but it switches between Sean and Fen in alternating chapters, which allows us to get to know what is going on in the mind of each character, and stops us "taking sides" with either character as the story develops.
I enjoyed the way the characters are awkward in their living arrangements at first, it's not all love at first sight or instant attraction here, but simply two people who get along rather well, looking at each other in a different light. They also have their own passions and interests, with Sean loving his music and having an interest in architecture through his job, and Fen watches old movies and enjoys sewing with her make do and mend attitude. This brings reality to the characters, as I hate it when characters have no life other than serving the purpose in a novel.
Both characters are insecure in their own way. Fen is finding it difficult to believe Sean would ever fall for someone like her, and Sean finds it difficult to express his feelings, which is one of the reasons his marriage broke down. It's interesting to see how insecurities can impact upon a relationship, when couples try to guess what the other is thinking. It also made me warm to the characters as I could see things from both viewpoints, and it shows how easy it is for major misunderstandings to occur either through lack of communication, or other people making throwaway comments.
The setting of this book is in Bath and the surrounding areas, and although it's not a part of the world I am overly familiar with, I found it painted a great picture of British life in general, and this made me relate to it more. Louise Douglas has an excellent ability to paint a visual picture through her descriptions, and she uses wonderful imagery to bring scenes to life. I especially love the scenes in the bookshop, where I could picture the musty shelves, threadbare carpets and the tea breaks with her elderly boss where they drink from their own character mugs. She also uses the time of year as a great way to set the scene, noticing seasonal details such as the early September sunshine, or the crowds of shoppers in the run up to Christmas.
The attention to detail is one of the things I love about Louise Douglas' work. She describes things in enough detail to be able to imagine it yourself, but without boring the reader with unnecessary waffle. An example of this is early in the book when Fen has a migraine, and instead of just saying she has a migraine, the author writes "The migraine that has been hovering just outside Fen's field of vision all morning finally swoops in for the kill just before lunch"
I found the pace of this book really nice, in a gentle but engaging way. It wasn't particularly fast-paced or action-packed, but I was enjoying the characters and descriptive elements so much it didn't really matter. The story develops at a nice pace, and I found myself absorbed in the book each time I picked it up. Some elements of the story are a bit predictable, for example I had guessed Fen's "secret" very early in the book, but this didn't matter as I was still interested to see how she would deal with it and what the outcome would be.
There are other characters who each bring something to this book. The children, Connor and Amy, have a part to play by affecting the decisions made by Sean and Fen, who are constantly striving to do the right thing for their kids as well as making themselves happy. Lina is the mutual friend of Sean and Fen, she doesn't feature much but is responsible for bringing them together. Fen's sister, who is pregnant at the beginning of the book, and Sean's wife Belle, all feature throughout the story to help it to develop just when I started to wonder if it was actually going anywhere. The ending of the book, without giving too much away, is pleasing and very well delivered. The author acknowledges that true love never runs smoothly, and that not everyone falls into the conventional "marriage and 2.4 children" category.
As you can probably guess, I really enjoyed this book, and would highly recommend it. I am tempted to read it again at some point in the future, mainly for the descriptive aspects of Louise Douglas' work, which are outstanding. I don't usually read the same book twice, as life is too short, but for this I might make an exception.
(Review may also appear on Ciao under the username Gingerkitty)
Sean thought his life was perfect - he was married to wife Belle and they have a young daughter Amy who is the light of their life. But when Belle reveals she's having an affair and wants Sean to move out, he's shell-shocked and heartbroken. Fen works in a bookshop in Bath and lives with her ill son Connor, but they're happy being just the two of them. Fen is hiding a shocking secret that is eating her up, and when she takes in a lodger who turns out to be Sean, the two become closer than they could have imagined. Will the pair be able to bury their demons and come together as a family, or is the past just too much for them to bear and set to ruin their future happiness?
I first came across Louise Douglas back in 2008 when I read her debut novel The Love of My Life and adored it. It seemed too good to be a debut, and really touched me when I read it, and after looking around online, I found it wasn't just me who holds this debut novel very highly. It's been 2 years since that book and I've been eagerly awaiting another release from Louise and finally, it's now here. The blue cover is similar to her first book, and the plot sounded just as emotional and heart-wrenching so when it arrived on my doorstop this morning, I couldn't help but start to read immediately.
Straight away, I was completely absorbed into the world of Sean and Belle, and their troubled marriage. The book is clearly on the side of Sean because we see the entire story in a positive way for him and a more negative way for Belle, and I enjoyed seeing an affair from a male perspective because we don't often see this in women's fiction.The book follows Sean for a large portion of the beginning of the book, and I really began to like and feel sorry for Sean which sets you up brilliantly for the rest of the book.
I adored Fen, the other lead character in the book. She is brought in a little way into the book but is equally as important as Sean, and links Sean's new life to his older one with Belle. Douglas has really captured a beautiful relationship between Fen and her son Connor, and I very much enjoyed how Douglas brings up Connor's medical problems but doesn't make them the be all and end all of these 2 characters, it's just something they deal with. Fen's very likeable and a strong character, and I was on her side throughout the book.
Louise chooses to use a third person present tense narrative which is really interesting for reading, and I really liked the way the book is written. It moves along with the characters perfectly, observing them and their emotions all the time, and drawing you into the book so easily. One of the best things of the book is Douglas' descriptive writing. She really brings to life the city of Bath and its landmarks, seeing them through the eyes of both newcomer Sean and resident Fen gives a rounded perspective and you can imagine them perfectly in your mind as you read them. Her writing is a joy to read, and definitely makes the book so easy to read and enjoy.
I also really enjoyed the mystery element running through the book, I was sure I knew what it was going to be but when all was revealed, I was shocked and loved how Douglas had kept it such a surprise. It was fabulous, and kept me guessing throughout. The reveal of it was very painful, you can sense the emotion in Fen and the other character involved, but thats what makes this book so brilliant, the real emotion it can evoke in a reader, and Douglas is phenomenal at creating that intimacy and relationship between a character and the reader.
This is a book that thrives on the relationships of its main characters and is a very emotional read based on that fact. It pulls at your heartstrings and isn't afraid to do so. It shows the raw side of emotion when a man is left jilted by his wife, and the loneliness and sorrow of a single mother left to cope alone, and evokes such feeling in you when you read it, you can't help but get completely involved. The cover says it's "full of pathos" and I agree fully with that, it's just an absolute pleasure to read.
This is simply women's fiction at its best, and I adored every single page. I was extremely lucky to receive a copy of this book, and I think it is one that is going to stay with me a very long time. The writing, the characters, the places and the story all come together to create a wonderful book that is simply marvellous. You go on a journey with these characters, you feel their ups and downs and I was so desperate to work out for Fen and Sean in the end that I just couldn't put the book down, I HAD to find out how it ended. Simply brilliant, and an absolute must-read!
ISBN: 978-0330454414. Published by Pan in February 2010. RRP: £6.99.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thanks for reading.
Sean thought he had a perfect life. He is successful and lives in a beautiful house with his wife Belle and young daughter Amy. That is until Belle reveals she has met someone else and wants Sean to leave.
Fen is a single mother to Connor and leads a quiet and isolated life, caring for her son and working in a bookstore. Estranged from her family, Fen is guarding a terrible secret.
When fate throws them together, a gentle and beautiful relationship develops. However with the past always lingering around the edges, will they ever be able to find peace and happiness?
I read and adored Louise Douglas' debut novel, The Love Of My Life and so when I saw she had a new book coming out this month, it went straight to the top of my wish list. I wasn't disappointed, as again Douglas delivers a story that will take you on an emotional roller coaster and keep you completely absorbed.
Sean, whose break-up begins the book, immediately captured me. He arrives home to find his wife has packed up his belongings and has decided to end the relationship. The shock and despair he felt was described so perfectly I could feel it myself and straight away he gained my sympathy.
Fen is even more complex. She is quiet, gentle and very intense. At first I wasn't sure I really got her, as there's something almost ethereal about her, but as her life and feelings are explored she also really grew on me. What I love about the characters in Louise Douglas' books is how absolutely real they are. She never tries to dress them up, and writes them with all the complexities and flaws humans have, so they become completely believable and easy to relate too.
The development of the relationship between Fen and Sean is stunning, but what I really loved reading was the relationship between Sean and his daughter Amy. She is only six when her parents separate and struggles to understand it. Sean also struggles to adapt to the new relationship with his daughter, fighting against the resentment and anger he feels for his wife and his determination to protect his child. I've read countless books on relationship break ups from a woman's perspective, but can't think of many that are from a man's. I think Louise Douglas handled this beautifully and sensitively; the feelings and emotions Sean goes through are so vivid. I admit to feeling that I wanted to protect him myself, maybe even falling a little bit in love with him.
Throughout the book, Fen's secret is a shadow, and I had no idea where this was going. It is hinted at from quite early on, but it's not until the final quarter of the book that it begins to be revealed. By the time it was I was completely engrossed, and there is a scene where Fen confronts the past that had me holding my breath, being unexpected and incredibly sad. If I have one tiny criticism of the book it would be that after Fen's secret is exposed, the other characters seem a little blasé about it, as if it really didn't matter that much. This didn't really strike me as a true reaction. I didn't mind too much and I don't think it spoils the book, but it is in contrast to the realism of the rest of the book
Missing You is written in the third person, and so we are given the story from both Fen and Sean and this works really well. I was willing them together and groaning when things conspired against them, such as a missed opportunity to say something or a misinterpreted action. Louise Douglas describes emotions so beautifully it is impossible not to become entranced with the characters. Both her first novel and this one feature the loss of a loved one and I wonder how much she draws from personal experience, as it is so convincing. I think what makes Missing You so absorbing is the way Sean and Fen are so easy to relate too and recognise, that as a reader I had to know what happens to them.
This isn't a fluffy read. While it's not heavy going and is easy to read, it's more serious than light chick-lit. That's not to say it doesn't have some lighter moments. A chapter that saw Sean getting as drunk as he could after a particularly messy meeting with his ex wife made me laugh. It's a disgustingly accurate portrayal of drunkenness that is both cringe worthy and funny. The book is very emotion driven and I felt all the ups and downs along with the characters. Louise Douglas writes relationships so very well and isn't afraid to show their bitter, jealous and manipulative sides while still showing the characters to be good people. I read the almost 400 pages with 2 days, and found it difficult to put down at time, as i became so absorbed with the story. Another hit for me from this author and I'll be watching out eagerly for a third book.
~ Other Information ~
Missing You by Louise Douglas
Published Febuary 2010 by Pan Books