All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks
Publishing Date: 1st December 2016
Source: Received from the publisher in return for an honest review, thank you!
Number of pages: 464
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Nancy is four, nearly five. She talks all the time: in the car, on the way to nursery, to her extrovert older brother, to her collection of bears. But then, one February morning, everything changes. Nancy’s mum and dad split up. Her father Patrick moves away from their Bristol home to Newcastle. And Nancy stops talking.
Eva is forty-four, nearly forty-five. She didn’t expect to be the third wife of a much-loved household name, but eight years ago, she and semi-retired bad boy Michael Quinn fell in love. Eva knew marrying a much older man meant compromises, but it was the love of a lifetime for them both – until Mickey dies suddenly, leaving Eva alone with his gossipy diaries, their two pugs, and a distressing voice in the back of her mind, wondering if perhaps she’s sacrificed more than she meant to.
While Nancy’s parents negotiate their separation, the question of weekend contact is solved when Patrick volunteers his sister Eva’s house. It’s in Longhampton, an hour out of Bristol, with plenty of room for her to get to know a niece and nephew she’s barely met – even if Nancy continues to refuse to speak. Patrick is sure it’s just a phase but his soon-to-be-ex-wife is worried that something more traumatic lies at the heart of their daughter’s selective mutism.
Meanwhile, Eva begins to read through Mickey’s diaries, and with every page she’s forced to confront a view of her marriage that turns everything she believed about her late husband, her self – and her own heart – on its head. The fortnightly presence of two children in her peaceful, grown-up home – one constantly singing and performing, the other wordless and sad – initially drives Eva and the two pugs, Bumble and Bee, to exhaustion, but as spring turns into summer, a trust slowly begins to form between an anxious little girl with a heartbreaking secret, and a woman who has realised too late that what her soul yearns for is the love of a child.
It is unbelievable but “All I Ever Wanted” is my first Lucy Dillon’s book – but certainly not the last, as this novel has totally convinced me and it made me experience all kind of emotions. It was a beautiful, gentle story about a family that goes through a rough patch in their lives. Caitlin and Patrick’s marriage wasn’t working as well as they’d like it to and Patrick’s acceptance of a job in Newcastle was the last straw – Caitlin refuses to move there with the children, she wants to stay at the house she has inherited from her grandmother, her “safe place”. For Patrick it is a sign that Caitlin has other priorities in life and it signifies that their marriage is over.
I was thinking this story is going to follow Caitlin and Patrick’s life, but it doesn’t only focus on their family, as there is also Patrick’s older sister Eva, and her story was an unexpected bonus for me. Now, in perspective, I think the author really knew what she’s doing, taking the whole focus from Nancy and sharing it with Eva, as it truly made the story more complex, it added some layers to it and for me personally it made the book a whole big bit more interesting.
What I really liked in this story is the fact that Lucy Dillon doesn’t let us feel pity or anger with one character for a long time, she then changes tracks and our opinions change as well. I was mostly team Caitlin, as I didn’t like Patrick. He came across as a cold and work – obsessed person, and I had a feeling that his work was a kind of escape for him, and I also hated the way he patronized Caitlin and that he didn’t appreciate her, and the way he was towards her was not the most friendly one. But there came a moment that I thought I won’t hold on to Caitlin anymore. It was just like Patrick said, she behaved as if there were two different kinds of morals for her, rules that all other should keep but that weren’t valid to Caitlin, and I was really scared it’s going to destroy this book for me. I was tired with her, and annoyed, and also desperate, and I hoped that she’ll eventually stop behave in this childish way, blaming all the other people for her failures and not feeling satisfied. And then I started to feel more sympathy towards Patrick – he was so desperately trying to do the right thing but somehow, somewhere has lost his priorities and everything turned wrong for him. Caitlin was thinking only about herself and her selfish behaviour put her children in danger more than once or she’s just forgotten about them, forgotten the promises she’d given them and it just didn’t sit well with me. Those were the moments when Patrick was supposed to pick up the pieces and make everything go smoothly again. So it is like this: I never actually warm to Patrick totally but I’ve lost many warm feeling for Caitlin – I didn’t like Patrick’s bossy and patronizing ways, and I didn’t like Caitlin’s helplessness and letting everyone to take a lead. And then there is also Eva, who thought she knows her late husband so well but after reading his diaries she starts to think that perhaps she didn’t know him as well as she thought – the worst thing now is that she’s never going to get answers to her questions now.
Lucy Dillon brilliantly describes her characters, they have depth and complex personalities. I couldn’t help but fell for Nancy immediately – it was so easy to imagine her as this talkative, positive, joyful girl because my Sophie is almost the same age as Nancy, and from morning till evening she talks, sings, hums, laughs and I can’t imagine that it should suddenly stop. It was really heart – breaking to see how this little girl clams up, withdraws. Joel, aged 10, who loves acting, is just as talkative as his sister, and very prone to accident, acting as his sister saviour and always stepping in to help her.
The story flaws so effortlessly! The scenes with the children sound so realistic and they are just like real kids their age. The sub – plot of Eva and his late husband, Michael, added tons to this story, however I’d love to read much more from his diaries, and especially the parts that his two ex – wives had. There was so much more to this sub – plot, and the more it was developing, the more I could find myself rooting for Eva and falling for her. It touched upon many issues, about hiding your biggest dreams only not to hurt your beloved person, and then about living ruefully. Eva loved her husband totally but now she’s left alone only with two pugs and many, many questions and with his diaries and some things he’s written there makes her start to think and revise.
This book is a slow burner to be honest, at the beginning it made me feel a little uncertain – I wasn’t sure if it’s a book for me, as there seemed not much happening. However, as it slowly develops, I found myself falling in love with all aspects of this story, with the writing style, characters, the way it was written, and it quickly turned out that it may not be a fast paced book but it is much, much more and it has many layers that only wait to be peeled off. The author is testing her characters, filling their lives with ups and downs, with regrets but also hopes and I loved this rollercoaster journey of feelings and emotions. She explores there relationships, needs and wishes, lost hopes and desires. Dividing the book into two stories was a great idea – even though the stories were quite different they also had something in common and I liked how they were linked and how they interwoven. I liked how down – to – earth this novel was, showing how it really is in life, in relationship. The characters are not perfect, they make a lot of mistakes but they do it in a good faith and they try to be the best mother, father, aunt. They’re not honest with each other, just like it is in normal life, when we tell white lies or keep some things for us only, and it’s only in the end that they eventually open and start to be honest with each other – and it was so believable and genuine. “All I Ever Wanted” was a really engaging story about family dynamics and coming to terms after a separation. It sounded down – to – earth and I found myself most of the time rooting for the characters and hoping things will change for them for better. Highly recommended!