We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman

We All Want Impossible Things

by Catherine Newman

Published by Doubleday Books on January 12th

Available from West End Lane Books and all Good Bookshops

What They Say

Who knows you better than your best friend? Who knows your secrets, your fears, your desires, your strange imperfect self? Edi and Ash have been best friends for over forty years. Since childhood they have seen each other through life’s milestones: stealing vodka from their parents, the Madonna phase, REM concerts, unexpected wakes, marriages, infertility, children. As Ash notes, ‘Edi’s memory is like the back-up hard drive for mine.’

So when Edi is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Ash’s world reshapes around the rhythms of Edi’s care, from chipped ice and watermelon cubes to music therapy; from snack smuggling to impromptu excursions into the frozen winter night. Because life is about squeezing the joy out of every moment, about building a powerhouse of memories, about learning when to hold on, and when to let go.

What I Say

There are novels you read and love, and then there are novels you read and love and nod your head in recognition, that make you laugh and add lots of post it notes so you can go back and reread the passages because they are so wonderful – and We All Want Impossible Things is one of them.

If you are looking for a sweet, subdued book about friendship – then this is not for you. If however like me, you love novels that show friendships in all their glorious, messy and magical forms, then this should absolutely be on your reading list.

Edi and Ash have been friends for longer than they can remember, and have that wonderful connection that comes with a lifetime of shared experiences and moments they only understand.

When Edi is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Edi’s husband Jude decides that to avoid their son Dash having to see his Mum pass away, that Edi will move into a hospice close to Ash, and Ash will provide the daily support she needs.

The power of Catherine’s storytelling is steeped in every single page of this novel. Not only must Edi and Ash now navigate a new and uncharted path through their friendship, but dealing with the day to day unglamorous realities of cancer, the etiquette of grief and dying, and the ever present knowledge that Edi is not going to be here for much longer, makes the women appreciate what they have now and all the things they have ever had together.

Ash seems to be split in two – dealing with Edi and being the present and unshakeable friend in her presence, but at the same time unravelling when she is away from Edi, seemingly separated from her husband and ricocheting from relationship to relationship as she tries to hold everything and everyone together. At times I felt completely frustrated with her, but it also makes you understand that there is no prescriptive way to deal with grief, and while we may not understand why Ash behaves as she does, it is not for us to judge her.

It is also important to say that this novel does not shy away from Edi’s condition, and this is not some airbrushed version of cancer. The day to day realities of what it’s like to have a terminal illness, and the physical, emotional and medical stresses that Edi and her family go through are laid bare. It was at times undoubtedly hard for me to read, having lost a Mum to cancer, but at the same time I was pleased that Catherine told Edi’s story with compassion and candour.

Catherine Freeman also perfectly understands the complicated and awkward nature of dealing with a loved one who is dying, and that there should be no shame in acknowledging the humour too. If Edi’s heart’s desire is to taste the cake from a recipe no one can find, that Ash will do everything she can to get hold of it, whilst at the same time Ash wonders when the most appropriate time would be to ask Edi if she can have the favourite t-shirt back she borrowed! This is what Catherine does so well – her characters are real, relatable and not perfect – and it made me love them even more.

We All Want Impossible Things is a glorious love letter to female friendships in all its unremarkable, remarkable and perfectly imperfect forms. Edi and Ash are characters who not only have the emotional shorthand that so many of us long for in friendships, but also resonate so deeply because they are just like us – not perfect, not always likeable, but they would do anything for each other however difficult that might be, and I completely loved them for it.

Thank you so much to Alison and Doubleday books for my gifted proof copy.

And Just Like That, 2022 is done

I’m not quite sure why I am writing this blog post on the last day of 2022. I haven’t read a huge number of books this year, I’ve been at times lackadaisical in posting on my blog, and have often felt like Twitter and Instagram have been changing the rules so often that I have no clue as to what the best way is to shout about books anymore!

Book blogging has been my thing for such a long time now, and while it’s introduced me to a world where I finally feel that I belong, has given me opportunities I could never have dreamed of, and has given me incredible friendships I now couldn’t be without, I am ending 2022 feeling a bit lost.

I am a firm believer in being honest about my blogging, and as 2022 comes to a close, and 2023 looms large, honestly, I have been feeling overwhelmed with it all at the moment. It’s hard to keep the energy and enthusiasm sometimes – I still love reading but by December (probably like lots of you!) I felt a bit like I was back on the bookish conveyor belt of reading books in a certain order so that I am ready to review them for publication date.

I have taken a complete break from social media over Christmas – and it’s been lovely. I’ve watched a lot of films, spent a lot of time with my family and put my phone down for days – which not surprisingly has meant I have read a lot more! It has been so refreshing to just sit and read without constantly thinking of what I am going to say in my review, and instead have just read for the sake of reading!

There are a few things I know I want to do now. I need to feel confident in my voice again, and find the joy in blogging. For me, it’s hard to keep posting when you feel like no one is listening – I know it shouldn’t matter, but when I read a brilliant book, I just want to make sure as many people as possible know, and honestly, I still get frustrated sometimes because I don’t know the most effective way to do it, and feel like I have let the authors down.

Having a chance to pause over Christmas has also given me time to think and reflect on Years Of Reading Selfishly and what I want it to be going forward next year. I am sure no one is really bothered, but for me I need to feel enthusiastic about it or I just won’t do anything! Perhaps in writing this blog post I am making myself accountable and can look back on it in 2023 to make sure I actually do what I say.

When the brilliant author Harriet Evans wrote her article for The Bookseller this year about how women over 45 love books, and that the book trade should love them back, I was lucky enough to be quoted in the article, and I also felt that Harriet perfectly articulated what I have been thinking for a long time too. As a 52 year old woman, at times I have felt invisible, at one point this year seriously contemplated stopping blogging – but do you know what – I don’t want to lose my voice or feel my thoughts about books don’t matter. There should be room for everyone to talk about the books they love, however they want to do it, and my voice and opinions count – I need to remember that, and make sure that we support each other too.

The other thing I have been thinking about a lot, is how to combine book blogging with being a carer for my adult son. I told you all this year that I am going to keep talking about the realities of caring, because as a society we don’t, and books have given me the perfect peace and space I have needed to recharge this year – because it’s hard and full on sometimes.

In 2023, I want to read and share books written by people who are carers like me, to use my blog as a way to amplify the voices of people whose stories you may not know but need to be heard. I am pulling together a reading pile of books, and am having a think about the best way to do it – more on that soon, but in the meantime I’d also really love it if the publishing industry didn’t do away with online events. Just because book lovers can’t physically be somewhere doesn’t mean we don’t want to take part…

Looking back on what I’ve written it seems like such a lot. It’s up to me now to practise what I have been preaching, but the one thing I know for sure is that while at times I do feel like I am done, that there is also something that keeps me here – and that’s the fact that sharing my love of books and reading brings me joy – and I know that I need that in my life now more than ever.

Here’s to 2023, and all the books we have waiting for us, the love of books that we want to share, and to you, the incredible bookish community who absolutely understand the joy of books, reading and shouting about them!

Lots of love,

Clare

Xxx

One Day I Shall Astonish The World by Nina Stibbe

Published by Penguin Viking on April 21st 2022

Available from West End Lane Books

and all Good Bookshops

What They Say

Susan and Norma have been best friends for years, at first thrust together by force of circumstance (a job at The Pin Cushion, a haberdashery shop in 1990s Leicestershire) and then by force of character (neither being particularly inclined to make friends with anyone else). But now, thirty years later, faced with a husband seeking immortality and Norma out of reach on a wave of professional glory, Susan begins to wonder whether she has made the right choices about life, love, work, and, most importantly, friendship. 

Nina Stibbe’s new novel is the story of the wonderful and sometimes surprising path of friendship: from its conspiratorial beginnings, along its irritating wrong turns, to its final gratifying destination.

What I Say

Before I tell you about Nina’s novel, and what I think of it, I have a confession to make. I usually write my reviews by referring to the notes I have taken as I write it,

I didn’t write a single note about One Day I Shall Astonish The World because I was too absorbed, and didn’t want to put it down! I was sat outside on my patio on Easter Sunday (possibly with an Easter egg!) reading it, laughing out loud and reading numerous passages to Mr Years of Reading.

It’s a brilliantly funny, incisive and emotional novel that absolutely understands not only the complexities of female friendships, but also the realities of life for so many women that it’s impossible not to be genuinely moved by it.

Susan and Norma are lifelong friends, who first meet when Susan starts working in The Pin Cushion, the haberdashery shop that Norma’s family owns. Norma breezes into Susan’s life and wants to learn about literature from her so that she can apply for courses and leave her life at The Pin Cushion behind.

While Norma forges ahead with an academic career, Susan has stayed in Brankham, married Ray – the marketing manager of the local golf club and and has dropped out of her degree course to be a full time Mum to their daughter, Honey. Norma seems scornful of the life choices that Susan has made, and yet makes her own romantic choices based on the opportunities the men afford her. She marries her first husband, Hugo Pack-Allen, the man who has invested in The Pin Cushion, and Susan cannot understand what the attraction is. Unfortunately, after they Norma and Hugo are married, certain proclivities come to light that reveals Hugo to be someone who is not what Norma thought, and a twist of fate means that she finds herself alone a lot sooner than she thought.

As Norma sets on a path of carving out a career in academia for herself, Susan is feeling increasingly trapped at home. She is knows she is ever more isolated from Ray, and when they discover Ray has a daughter called Grace from a previous relationship, Susan starts to question exactly what she is getting from the life that seems to be whizzing past her without her making any mark in the world.

It’s also important to say that Norma and Susan’s relationship is an interesting one. They are in each other’s lives, but there always seems to be an ebb and flow in the relationship, and they seem to take a delight in the passive aggressive towards each other. Yet that is what made me love them even more. The fact that they quite frankly wind each other up and sometimes seem to take delight in the other woman’s misfortune is what adds another dimension for me. I loved the fact that their friendship wasn’t saccharine sweet and cosy confidences – because friendship isn’t always like that.

The turning point is when Susan decides to apply for a role at the local University – first in the Estates Office and eventually she ends up working for the Vice Chancellor. As someone who worked in a University, I can tell you that Nina has absolutely nailed what it is like to work in a place like that! On the one hand it is steeped in tradition with a dedicated group of people determined to ensure the University never changes, on the other is the outside ever changing world and the voices of those who know that in order to thrive, it has to understand the very students it needs to come through it’s doors.

Susan feels herself increasingly drawn towards the enigmatic VC and finds herself romantically imagining a life with him, Norma is suddenly again putting herself front and centre into Susan’s life. She decides she wants the VC for herself – while also keeping other relationships on the back burner just in case! Norma soon marries the VC and Susan wonders if she ever really had a friend in her at all.

As we follow both women through their lives from 1990 right up to the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic, we see how their worlds weave in and out of each others, and how whether they like it or not, in the absence of other female friends, they have this really deep, but not always comfortable bond that always brings them back together.

One Day I Shall Astonish The World is an incredibly funny and touching novel about women, friendship and the lives we somehow find ourselves in. For me, one of the many brilliant things about Nina’s writing is that she has that perfect balance of humour and emotion. She intuitively understands her characters and it is testament to her writing that each and every one of them is unforgettable and relatable, and that is why you can’t put this book down.

If I had to tell you just one reason why I loved One Day I Shall Astonish The World, I would say that in a world which at the moment for me seems unsettling and confusing, this book brought me such utter joy, that to be able to lose myself completely in it was just what I needed until I really did have to put it down. That for me is the sign of a brilliant writer, and Nina Stibbe is undoubtedly that.

I absolutely loved it, and this is without doubt one of my favourite books of this year.

Thank you so much to Ella Harold and Penguin Viking for my gifted Proof copy.

You can buy your copy from West End Lane Books here.