Isabelle in the Afternoon by Douglas Kennedy

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Douglas Kennedy – Isabelle in the Afternoon

Published by Hutchinson Books on 9th January

Available from All Good Bookshops and Online

What They Say:

Before Isabelle I knew nothing of sex.
Before Isabelle I knew nothing of freedom.
Before Isabelle I knew nothing of life.

Paris in the early Seventies. Sam, an American student, meets a woman in a bookshop. Isabelle is enigmatic, beautiful, older and, unlike Sam, experienced in love’s many contradictions. Sam is instantly smitten – but wary of the wedding ring on her finger.

What begins as a regular arrangement in Isabelle’s tiny Parisian apartment transforms into a true affair of the heart, and one which lasts for decades to come.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a novel that questions what we seek, what we find, what we settle for – and shows how love, when not lived day in, day out, can become the passion of a lifetime.

What I Say:

“Love when declared after a desperate misstep – it’s the hardest love to embrace”.

I think it is always important to be honest about the books I choose to review on Years of Reading. First of all, this is the first Douglas Kennedy novel I have read (don’t @ me!), and I wanted to read it because I thought the cover looked beautiful. I mean, that is not really the way a book blogger should choose their next novel is it?

Anyway, Isabelle at ed.pr contacted me to ask if I would like a copy, and I can tell you what is inside the novel is just as wonderful as the outside.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a novel about love, expectation and societal expectations, and I could not put it down.

Sam is an American student who finds himself in Paris before he starts the next chapter of his life at Harvard University.  His mother has passed away, and his father is emotionally distant, who seems almost relieved at the fact that he won’t have to deal with his son over the summer. As Sam navigates Paris alone, he starts to tire of the endless days he has to fill, and finds himself at a Bookshop where he meets Isabelle.

The attraction is instant, and Sam seems slightly overwhelmed at the thought that this elegant woman could possibly find him of any interest.  What is so refreshing about this novel is that right from the start, it is Isabelle that sets the parameters of the relationship.

Isabelle tells Sam that they will only meet at her apartment in Paris between the hours of five and seven in the afternoon.  They will never be seen out in public, and this is all that Isabelle will give to Sam. If he cannot comply with the rules of their relationship, it is over.  The arrangement is complicated by the fact that Isabelle is married, and she will not leave her husband Charles. She is absolutely aware of what is expected of her in Parisian society, and that to veer from that in any way would be catastrophic to the reputation of her husband and herself.

Sam at first accepts this arrangement, and is in the thrall of his older and more experienced lover.  As he settles into the affair, and is seemingly happy with their relationship, he also realises he is falling in love with her, and naively cannot understand why she cannot be with him and leave her husband.  It is interesting to see how Isabelle is unwavering in the rules she has created for their affair, in spite of her passionate relationship with Sam, she refuses to give in to his increasingly desperate demands.

To say that Isabelle is an unfeeling and stoic character, incapable of compassion, would be misleading.  She is in a claustrophobic and cloying marriage, where she has to appear to be the collected and contented wife, in order to comply with what is expected of her in the world she inhabits. Isabelle is very aware that her husband is also far from faithful, and it emerges that both partners seem to be resigned to keeping the marriage intact. It  is only when she is with Sam, that she can be free to express her feelings, desire and sexuality.

Unfortunately, the summer has to come to an end, and Sam has to return to the United States, and Isabelle has to seamlessly move back into her role of wife.  What I loved about this novel, is the way in which the two central characters have to continue the route their lives are expected to follow, whilst at the same time they are suppressing what they really want and feel.

For Sam, he studies, becomes a successful laywer, and meets Rebecca, a woman who in love with him, but you always get the sense that Sam is not absolutely in love with her.  Rebecca, to everyone else is perfect for him, but as the reader you see that she will never emotionally fulfill him.  In Paris, Isabelle is a devoted wife and mother, but similarly, you feel that her heart is always with Sam in America. Both Sam and Isabelle attempt to forget about each other, by conforming to what they are supposed to do, but you know that their lives are only being half lived, and this is what makes their stories so absorbing.

They cannot break the bond, and as their lives go on, the connection between them is constantly tested but never fades.  Sam and Isabelle are characters you feel empathic towards, because they have faults and foibles.  They are not always likeable, in fact at times you feel increasingly frustrated with both of them. However, the skill that Douglas Kennedy has as a writer means that you really do engage with them and want to find out what happens.

The plot moves along at the perfect pace, I always felt that the story was natural and spent enough time engaging with both characters.  The whole premise of the novel, that these two people who are meant to be together, but can’t be, is absorbing and believable.  The novel also addresses many different themes sensitively and effectively, I found the portrayal of Sam’s son’s issues were realistic and affecting, and Rebecca’s mental health  was handled by Douglas in such a way that you really felt for what Rebecca was going through, and the effect that this has on her relationship with Sam and everyone around her.

The twist and turns of Sam and Isabelle’s relationship is played across the decades, and the notion that these two people so obviously in love with each other but cannot completely be together is a delicious one for me.  They spend time together in Paris and America over the years, but the reality is that they are always playing at being a couple, they cannot absolutely commit to each other. The lives of Isabelle and Sam play out, and neither of them can let go of the other, however hard they try.  Do they finally reconcile? You are just going to have to read it to find out.

Isabelle in the Afternoon is a thoughtful and passionate novel, epic in its scope and ambition, and it is a bold move to ask readers to engage with two characters for such a long period of time – especially when they are seemingly thwarted at every turn.  The reason it works so well for me, is that Douglas Kennedy has created a novel where you are absorbed by the characters, their world, and the choices they make.  They matter to you, and as you see how passionate and complete their relationship is, I really wanted Sam and Isabelle to have the life they both desperately wanted. That for me is the sign of an amazing novel, and the mark of a novelist who understands the importance of the reader connecting with their characters.

I loved it.

Thank you so much to Isabelle at ed.pr for my gifted copy, and I decided to write a review simply because I loved it so much! 

 

It’s Here..! My Booktime Brunch with Antonia Honeywell on Chiltern Voice

grayscale photo of vintage radio beside stove with cooking pot

 

Thank you so much to Antonia for sending me a copy of the Booktime Brunch Show!

Feel free to have a listen, hear how much #Booklove (I know!), there was in this show, and let me know what you think!

To all the people I tagged in my previous post, have a listen to see what we said about you … (all lovely I promise..!).

Thank you for all the wonderful feedback already, and now you can hear the whole thing..

 

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did doing it, and let me know if you have any suggestions of books we should be talking about for our Autumn and Christmas Special.

Lots of love,

Clare

xxx

Star Crossed by Minnie Darke

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Minnie Darke: Star Crossed

Published by: Bantam Press

Buy It: here

 

What The Blurb Says:

Destiny doesn’t happen by accident . . .

When Justine Carmichael (Sagittarius, aspiring journalist and sceptic) bumps into her teenage crush Nick Jordan (Aquarius, struggling actor and true believer) it could be by chance. Or it could be written in the stars.

Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star – and Nick, she now learns, relies on the magazine’s astrology column to guide him in life.

Looking for a way to get Nick’s attention, Justine has the idea of making a few small alterations to the horoscope for Aquarius before it goes to print.

After all, it’s only the stars. What could possibly go wrong?

What I Say:

If I read my horoscopes, and it says wonderful things – of course I am in awe of the wisdom of the Astrologer. If it makes no sense at all, then of course it’s a load of rubbish and a waste of paper too.  How many of us sneak a peek at what the stars have in store for us, and tell others that we behave in a certain way because of the Star Sign personality we have.  By the way, I am a Scorpio, so that’s fiercely loyal and very protective thank you, and of course I read my stars regularly.

Minnie Darke’s exqusitely different novel asks us, what would happen, if someone altered the horoscopes to make a person fall in love with them.  Justine works at the Alexandria Park Star magazine and does not believe in horoscopes at all. Nick, her childhood boyfriend and aspiring actor believes in them passionately. When they meet by chance (or is it?) one day, Justine realises that she still has feelings for Nick, but is too scared to say anything – and after all, he now has an impossibly beautiful and picture perfect girlfriend.

As Justine watches Nick move further away from her, and with access to the magazine’s horoscopes, she decides just to alter Nick’s horoscope, Aquarius, so that when he reads it, he realises that Justine is the woman for him.  The thing is, and as we all know, life is never that easy…

What follows is a brilliantly imaginative story, that looks at how we may think we are able to determine our fate, but that maybe letting the stars determine them is far more fun.  Each chapter of Star Crossed is a different star sign, where we learn a little about astrology, but also, it gives us a glimpse into the lives of other people who have read the same horoscope as Nick, and how that impacts the choices they make too.  What we also see is that the same statement can be read in a thousand different ways according to who is reading it and what they are going through at the time.

What is also a clever plot device, and you probably guessed it from the title, that Nick is starring in a production of Romeo and Juliet – the original Star Crossed lovers, and it is a theme that runs throughout the whole novel too. Justine helps Nick to learn his lines and interviews the young actress who plays Juliet, and Nick inadvertently crashes another production where he has to stand in as Romeo.

This is one of the many things I loved about Star Crossed. It is just so different to anything I have picked up recently, and it is a joyous celebration of the power of love and that you may try and fight it, but apparently our fate is determined by a higher power whether we like it or not.  The story moves along quickly and at a cracking pace, and Minnie’s plot is a thing of beauty as it starts stories, ends them, you wonder why this character has been introduced, but as the novel gains momentum towards the end, it all finally makes sense. I loved how each story also brings new characters into the novel, but it never felt forced or superfluous to the main plot.

At the heart of Star Crossed is the story of Nick and Justine, and how really, they were always meant to be together, but they just didn’t know it. They are two really likeable characters, flawed, unsure and relatable, and I defy you not to read Star Crossed and shout at them to just get together and start the rest of their lives (I may have done this once or twice!). That is why this novel is so unique – as fate conspires to keep them apart, we understand that they need to go through all this heartache and missed opportunities to truly acknowledge what has been right in front of them from the first time they met

Star Crossed is just the novel I needed to read at the moment.  Sometimes I just want to read a novel that brings me joy, doesn’t upset me, and that in the end, shows that love conquers all (the fabulous dog Brown Houdini-Malarky was a brilliant addition to the plot too!).  Minnie Darke has written a truly wonderful novel, which is filled with characters I loved, a belief in the power of love, and is just simply heart warming to read. It would also be absolutely perfect for a film adaptation- just in case by any strange luck there are any film-makers reading this blog…

I really loved this novel, and I hope you do too.

Thank you so much to Hannah Bright at Transworld for my gifted copy of Star Crossed, and for asking me to be part of the Blog Tour.

You’ve read what I thought, now follow the rest of the other Bloggers to find out what they thought…