Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny
Published by 4th Estate on April 15th
Available to buy from All Good Bookshops and Online
What They Say
The bittersweet, hilarious and feel-good new novel from the author of Standard Deviation
What I Say
Let’s be honest here, and in fact I am just going to outright say it, I love Katherine Heiny. She could publish a book of her shopping lists and I would read it to be fair. Her first novel Standard Deviation was one of the very first books I reviewed on Years of Reading Selfishly way back in October 2017 (here’s my review for you ), and I was gutted when I realised this was the only novel she had written, because I loved it so much!
Fast forward to 2021, and I heard on the Bookish Grapevine that Katherine had written a new novel to be published by 4th Estate. I am not ashamed to tell you that I basically offered to sell my children to 4th Estate for a proof, and while I still have my two boys with me, my heart now firmly belongs to Katherine Heiny and Early Morning Riser.
Jane is a school teacher in Boyne City, seemingly contented and single – until she meets Duncan. They meet and fall in love, but the only thing is that Duncan comes with a lot of emotional baggage. An ex-wife called Aggie, who is very much still in his life, plus everywhere they go, and every time that they are out, some woman seems to have some connection or memory of going out with Duncan. Jane may not really like it, but Duncan is charming, and everyone seems to like him. Duncan is a carpenter and he employs a man called Jimmy who has learning difficulties to help him in the office – more of which later. The thing is, Jane has assumed that now she and Duncan are in a steady relationship that the next logical progression will be marriage. Until one day in a conversation with someone else, and in front of Jane, Duncan admits he doesn’t want to get married again. Jane is bereft and realises she can’t be with Duncan if they aren’t going to get married.
Devastated, but realising she has no choice, Jane ends her relationship with Duncan. After a period of time, we join her again as she is about to marry Luke, and see all the wedding preparations taking place, as well as the excruciating conversations between the bride and groom’s families. Katherine absolutely nails the fact that these people are only in the same room because their children are getting married, and while Jane’s mother is oblivious, it is very clear that Luke’s mother would rather be anywhere else! You could absolutely sense the tension and unease that is common in many wedding celebrations.
When a life changing event happens just before the wedding (not going to spoil it, buy the book!), Jane finds herself finally married to Duncan – with possibly the most unromantic proposal ever, has two girls, and now feels responsible for Jimmy too. I wanted to talk about this because honestly, this part of the novel affected me very much.
I have a 19 year old son with special needs, and now he is an adult, I am constantly worried about his future. How will he cope when I’m not here. Who will be his voice because he can’t articulate what he wants, how do I ensure he is loved and looked after and not taken advantage of. See? These are things that people who don’t have children with special needs can never truly understand, because you hope that when your child reaches a certain age they will go off and make their own life. I can only surmise from Katherine’s writing that she has personal experience of this, or that she has done so much research that she absolutely understands what it is like for people like me. Jimmy wants what we all want – to be happy, loved and to love, and while parts of his story were honestly incredibly difficult for me to read, his is also a story of joy, because he is surrounded by people who don’t see him as defined by what he can’t do, but by what he can.
It’s difficult to articulate exactly why Early Morning Riser is such a joy to read. It made me laugh out loud on numerous occasions because the dialogue is so razor sharp and pitch perfect, and it just flows so easily, it’s impossible to put down. For me, Katherine’s writing is the kind that just bursts with life, and you feel that you really know and care for the characters she creates. No one is perfect, each person has their frailities and flaws, but that’s exactly the kind of person I want to read about!
Early Morning Riser is a beautiful, wonderful and perfect novel about love, hope, humanity and kindness. It shows us how in finding connections with the people around us, we can create the family we need to be there for us, without judgement and preconceptions, but with endless compassion and understanding. I desperately hope that in time, the world will be like that for my son too.
I absolutely and totally loved it, and it is undoubtedly one of my #MostSelfishReads2021
Thank you so much to Matt Clacher and Livvy Marsden for being so kind and sending me a proof.