Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink
Published by Phoenix Books
Available at West End Lane Books,
All Good Bookshops and Online
What They Say
It is summer on Magnolia Road when Juliet moves into her late mother’s house with her husband Liam and their young son, Charlie. Preoccupied by guilt, grief and the juggle of working motherhood, she can’t imagine finding time to get to know the neighbouring families, let alone fitting in with them. But for Liam, a writer, the morning coffees and after-school gatherings soon reveal the secret struggles, fears and rivalries playing out behind closed doors – all of which are going straight into his new novel . . .
Juliet tries to bury her unease and leave Liam to forge these new friendships. But when the rupture of a marriage sends ripples through the group, painful home truths are brought to light. And then, one sun-drenched afternoon at a party, a single moment changes everything.
The fiction debut from Sunday Times bestselling author Cathy Rentzenbrink, Everyone Is Still Alive is funny and moving, intimate and wise; a novel that explores the deeper realities of marriage and parenthood and the way life thwarts our expectations at every turn.
What I Say
Let’s be honest here. As soon as I heard that Cathy Rentzenbrink was writing a novel, I really wanted to read it. I have read all her non-fiction books, and Dear Reader was the book that finally made me feel seen! I was thrilled when Leanne Oliver very kindly sent me a proof copy, but it also came with that real uneasiness that bloggers have – what if I don’t love it?
Dear Reader, I loved it.
Juliet, Liam and their son Charlie have moved into a beautiful and deceptively quiet street in Hammersmith called Magnolia Road. Juliet’s mother has passed away, so they have moved into her former house, which brings up many memories for Juliet as she attempts to settle her family in as well as deal with the very raw grief of losing her Mum.
While Juliet works full time- and attempts to juggle her professional and home life, Liam is a stay at home dad, trying to write a novel. What becomes evident is that Juliet is still doing everything while Liam spends time ingratiating himself with the ‘Magnolia Wives’ the clique of women who spend their days having coffee mornings and constantly trying to one up each other – all he claims, in the name of novel research.
Although on the surface, Sarah (definitely the Queen Bee!), Helen and Lucy seem to be the epitome of everything you would see in an insta perfect post, all the women are dealing with their own issues that they can’t vocalise. To say anything or to be seen as less than perfect, means that they are not the strong. capable women they want the world to see.
Make no mistake, these families are living seemingly charmed lives, but always slightly simmering under the surface is the tension that is ever present when they all get together, and bizarrely keeps them coming back for more. The marriages in the novel all have their flaws, with some falling apart and others holding on by a thread, and the pressure placed on the children to be the best are an unconscious but all too familiar feature of their daily lives.
Cathy Rentzenbrink absolutely understands the intricacies and minutiae of married life. For me, a novel where the characters and dialogue come to the fore as oppose to a story where you are constantly bombarded with event after event makes this a really engaging and absorbing novel. That is why when something happens that no one could have foreseen, it not only stops you in your tracks, but Cathy uses this event to slowly turn the narrative gaze back on the reader. As you keep reading, the scope of the novel changes and you realise that everything you thought about the characters will slowly shift.
There is so much in the pages of Everyone Is Still Alive that I think it is a novel that absolutely needs to be reread to appreciate the layers that are embedded so effortlessly. As well as looking at marriage and relationships, parenting, grief, work and the notion of the way we present ourselves, this novel is testament to how the community we live in can at times infuriate us, but also be the very thing that brings us together when we need it most.
Everyone Is Still Alive resonates so deeply with so many of us, because we see ourselves in it and connect with the characters on the page. The power and force of Cathy’s novel comes not only from the plot and narrative, but also the fact that the little niggles and routine domestic issues so many of us deal with every day are given a stage to be played out in front of us. It also serves to remind us that we are not the only people living the life we do, and that in this insta perfect and filtered world, the majority of us are just doing the best we can as we try to love our families and feel loved and appreciated in return too.
I absolutely loved it.
Thank you so much to Leanne Oliver at Phoenix Books for my gifted proof copy.
You can buy your copy from West End Lane Books here.