What the Blurb Says:
Is this a great love story? Or a story about great love? You decide. On a morning that seems just like any other, Robbie wakes in his bed, his wife Emily asleep beside him, as always. He rises and dresses, makes his coffee, feeds his dogs, just as he usually would. But then he leaves Emily a letter and does something that will break her heart. As the years go back all the way to 1962, Robbie’s actions become clearer as we discover the story of a couple with a terrible secret – one they will do absolutely anything to protect.
‘Julie Cohen’s writing is powerful, moving and truly beautiful’ Joanna Cannon, author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
‘It takes a lot to tempt me from crime, but this is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking stories I’ve read’ Emma Flint, author of Little Deaths ‘
Complex, compelling and beautiful, Together is the kind of novel that will stay with you forever’ Rowan Coleman, author of We Are All Made of Stars.
What I Say:
It occurred to me as I started to review Together, that all the blog posts I have done so far all have one thing in common. Each novel features love as a central theme.
Is it because I have decided to blog about the books that I am more aware of it, or is it more to do with the fact that love is such a powerful, unstoppable force that it is at the centre of our worlds whether we are aware of it or not? All the books I have reviewed so far show how love, simply, is love, irrespective of sexuality, age, our past, present or future.
Together is such a beautiful book, and like all the books I have reviewed, it will make you stop and think, and it will be in your thoughts long after you have read it.
It also flips novel conventions on its head, as it starts at the end of Robbie and Emily’s story and winds its way back through their shared history right to the first time they met. It sounds confusing, and at first it threw me slightly, but it is such a clever and accomplished way to not only get to the heart of this story, but when the secret is revealed, it knocks you sideways and has you flicking back through the pages for some sign that you missed something.
I promise you, you won’t find it, which makes Julie’s clever use of the reverse timeline even more powerful. You know there is a secret at the heart of this novel, you will NEVER work out what it is!
Together is the love story of Robbie and Emily. At the start of the novel, Robbie gets up, writes a note for Emily, and leaves the house and walks into the sea to his death. What we learn early on, is that Robbie has Alzheimers and is slowly realising he can no longer be the vibrant, loving partner, father and grandfather he once was.
We see how they desperately wanted children, and because they were unmarried, that they had to engage the services of Honeywell, a lawyer with dubious connections. Robbie and Emily adopt a baby called Adam, but they have to flee as Honeywell is exposed for stealing babies to order. They settle far away from prying eyes and are slowly welcomed into the community, Robbie as a shipbuilder, and Emily pursues her medical career. We also learn about Robbie’s other son, William, whom he had to abandon. Robbie had never giving up hope of finding him and being the father he wanted to be. Their relationship is painful and fractured, and their moves towards each other is not a simplistic fairy tale, but a truthful observation of how time does not always heal our wounds.
As we move backwards through their story, Emily, we discovered, was married to someone else, but that on seeing Robbie in an American airport, she realises that she cannot live without him. Christopher, her husband, knows that Emily and Robbie have a love that goes way beyond the passive affection Emily feels for him. He can see that Emily’s logic and rationale leaves her as soon as she sees Robbie, and that the only way he can deal with it is by giving Emily permission to see him until they have to return to England.
During their short time together, Robbie and Emily realise that the love they feel transcends everything, and the reality of facing a life separated is something they cannot bear. Robbie is knocked overboard when they go out sailing, and as she struggles to get him back, Emily realises she cannot live without him. Quite simply, she will do whatever it takes, whatever the cost, to be with him.
“I can’t lose you again. It’s all hollow in the centre of things without you.”
Julie’s writing seamlessly moves you back through their story, which is such an accomplished thing to do, as there are so many threads to the different parts of the story. At each turn, we see how future plot lines are gently placed in front of us and decisions that characters make become clear. Throughout the novel, the one constant, unwavering truth is the love that Emily and Robbie have for each other. The attraction they feel towards one another excludes everyone and everything else. Rational thought and society’s expectations take second place to the need they have to be together.
Together works so well because by the time the secret (which I am not going to reveal – read the book instead!) is finally revealed, you understand how entwined Robbie and Emily are, and you cannot imagine them not being together. At the same time, everything you have read clicks into place, and you understand the heartbreaking decisions and constant fear they must have felt throughout their lives.
I loved Together. It was engrossing, clever and different. Starting at the end of a story and working backwards is a unique way to draw you into the characters, I feel that it made me concentrate more and in turn connected me to them more deeply.
Together is about the power and strength of love, and nothing I can write says it better than this;
“I love you. You’re my beginning and my ending Emily, and every day in between”