The Way We Were
by Sinead Moriarty
Publisher: Penguin Ireland
Publishing Date: 24th March 2016
Source: Copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley, thank you!
Number of pages: 4oo
Genre: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary
WINNER OF THE IRISH BOOK AWARD FOR POPULAR FICTION 2015 ‚Heartfelt and deeply moving … I couldn’t put it down.’ Susan Lewis ‚Intriguing and thought provoking … a great read.’ Katie Fforde ‚Gripping and thought-provoking – I was desperate to discover how it would pan out!’ Paige Toon
When Alice’s husband Ben dies suddenly, her world falls apart. They shared twenty years and two daughters and life without him is unimaginable. Having lost her parents while young, Alice understands her girls’ pain. At fifteen, Jools is at that awkward age and only Ben could get through to her. And eleven-year-old Holly looks for the answer to everything in books but this time she’s drawing a blank. Alice realizes that for their sakes she must summon up superhuman reserves of strength. Somehow all three of them come through the dark days. In time, it’s even possible for Alice to consider marrying again, with the girls’ blessing. So when Ben turns up after three years, her world is again turned upside-down. The girls assume that their family can go back to the way they were. Alice is not so sure. Once more Alice has to find the strength to be the mother her daughters need her to be. But this time what that means is far from clear … ‚Smart family drama that packs a punch’ Heat on The Secrets Sisters Keep ‚Fans of Sinéad know they can expect honesty, humour and great story-telling’ Hello
The storyline of „The Way We Were” is a little unusual, and I haven’t expected it at all (no, I haven’t read synopsis. It is Sinead Moriarty’s book – I don’t need to read synopsis to know that I am for a real treat, no matter what the book is about!). Why unusual, you may ask? Well, it has a dual location, and the second of them is in Eritrea – I haven’t read any books set in Eritrea before. What took the characters there? Well, Alice and Ben are married, both doctors, Alice a GP and Ben a surgeon, living a cosy life with their two daughters, Jools and Holly. Their life consists of going to work and taking care of the girls, which mostly means having battles with Jools over her homework, while Holly was a little genius. Their relationship is stable and sturdy and while Alice wishes that Ben came home right after the work instead of going cycling, Ben feels a little constricted and misses adventure, so he signs for a humanitarian trip to Eritrea, though he never thinks that this trip will ever take place. But yes, it happens, and despite Alice pleading with him not to go, he goes ahead. He should be back home after a short time but he never returns…
Fast forward, and Alice and the girls have built themselves a new life. Alice is to be engaged when she gets a phone call that is – again – going to change their whole lives… Can they be happy with a reunion that they were hoping for so long? And what happens when you stop hoping…?
Whatever we want to say about the book, those are the characters that just make it. We can like or dislike them, but they are brilliant, three – dimensional characters. At the first sight Alice can seem like a typical woman, juggling home and her work, but there was so much more to her than meets the eye. She was not perfect, she was not flawless, but this is what made her so realistic in my eyes. She had better and worse moments, and she felt so realistic in all her feelings, and I am really impressed how well the author captured all of these feelings.
At the beginning I though I will never warm to Jools, but in the end I have totally adored her. She was a handful and yes, her role models were the Kardashians, and some of her one – liners and word – twisting made me roll my eyes, but in a positive way. Though I had a moment that I didn’t like her, and it was when she tried to force her mother into making a decision that she, Jools, thought the best, but altogether she was brilliantly written, the author has wonderfully captured the way a teenager is. She and Holly were like chalk and cheese, and where Jools made me laugh, Holly mostly broke my heart with her perceiving the world and the whole situation. The chapters told from her point of view were mostly heartbreaking, and they made me wonder more than once how mature she is but how much of a child there is in her, and how much it costs her to come to terms with the situation and its consequences.
But my favourite character was absolutely Kevin, Alice’s brother. No matter what happened, he was there for her, supporting her every step and decision, even if he didn’t agree with her. He was gay, and he couldn’t be more clichéd, but in a good way, and I would love to have such a brother any time (impossible. Have a married sister). He always knew the right word and he was a champion of lightening the mood. Let’s also not forget Nora, the housekeeper, with her wisdoms – she was brilliant, a great addition to the family and the story, and even though only a background character, I can’t imagine this book without her. And last but not least, Declan, the tempered Declan – he and he and Ben were in fact complementary. Declan had a great sense of humour and he had a great family and I think I fell a little in love with him. And with his family as well. Though I had my five minutes when I stopped liking him, when he felt that he should tell Alice how she should live and what she should do. But it was only a moment and then I loved him again. So there.
I was a little conflicted about Dan, to be honest, he was so full of himself and he pushed Alice so much, I was scared that he might have turn into a bully or something like this. Loved Stella, though, she was a great person.
I also liked how the book is told in the third person Alice and Ben’s point of view, but the most heartbreaking moments were the chapters told in the first person by Holly – they were so touching and moving and it is amazing how well and deep the author was able to get into Holly’s head. Ms Moriarty has truly greatly dealt with the complexity of the situation and the plot. She didn’t allow her character to wallow in self – pity and to become melancholic or depressed – sure, they had moments of weakness, who wouldn’t have, but she kept them strong and going. And even though the book deals with really difficult issues, there is no overwhelming feeling of sadness or drama. No, it is full of really humorous scenes, especially with Kevin or the tales from Alice’s practice, and it makes for a great read.
However, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that the story is a little too one – dimensional and not as complex as I’d like from such a great author. I can’t put my finger directly on what it was that I’m missing, but everything felt so smooth in this story, and oh my god, of course, it was a tragedy, but nevertheless it all seemed just so easy. The things didn’t cross over, weren’t so explored as I’d like them to be and the book has really gained pace in the last 30% of it. But on the other hand nothing was obvious in this story and it really kept me guessing till the end. I also didn’t know how it should end for me, I didn’t enjoy how much under the gun Alice was put, especially by Jools, in those moments I thought that Jools is much too selfish and she should not butt in, shouldn’t interfere and let her mother make her own decision, but really, I didn’t know what would be better. I was mostly thinking that there can’t be a happy end, and I would really like to see a sequel to „The Way We were” to see what Alice does with her new life. The book was well – paced, and the scenes in Eritrea were gripping and dangerous. This novel was greatly written, had very well drawn characters, was really thoroughly researched and it was not predictable, and also not the easy one, as there were many heartbreaking decisions to be made. I wouldn’t like to be in the characters’ shoes, to be honest, wouldn’t like to be faced with the same dilemmas. Altogether, it was a great read about a family put to a test – a test in love and hope and new beginnings. A book with great characters and a very unique plot – highly recommended.