With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter dares to hope that she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.
But the reality of becoming parents proves much harder than Lucy and Jonah imagined. Jonah’s love and support is unquestioning, but as Lucy struggles with work and her own failing dreams, the strain on their marriage increases. Suddenly it feels like Lucy is close to losing everything…I have only read a couple of Amanda Prowse's books but she is clearly a writer who has won the hearts of thousands of readers so when I was offered the chance to read "The Idea of You" I took it. I hadn't read the reviews of this book but it was impossible to avoid the words like heart wrenching, heart breaking, emotional and overwhelming which have sprung up all over Facebook and Twitter.
Prowse writes about domestic drama, about issues that affect real women and about women that have to find a huge inner strength they never knew they had in order to overcome their situations. This has got to be why so many women find her books so engaging and moving; she explores issues that have affected them or their friends.
"The Idea of You" is no different. For this novel Prowse has focussed on pregnancy and miscarriage. Miscarriage affects a huge proportion of women and the statistics available don't even include those that happen at home and are not recorded in hospital or GP notes. Despite the high numbers of women who suffer such loss, miscarriage still seems to be a subject that is not always easy to discuss openly or seek emotional support for. This sets Prowse a real challenge. She has chosen a subject that is incredibly personal, emotive, complicated and traumatic. Each and every experience will be different and each and every woman will find their own route through their grief. How do you create a story that can convey this journey sensitively, sympathetically and convincingly without over sentimentalising or without being too detached?
Well, I couldn't even begin to do it, but Prowse really can.
It was no surprise to me when I read in the acknowledgements that this novel was based on Prowse's own experiences - which in my opinion actually makes this novel even more brave.
Most of the novel focusses on Lucy and her desperation as each pregnancy ends in with an early miscarriage. Lucy's grief and despair is very well conveyed and it does make for hard reading at times. The chapters are broken up with letters written by Lucy in the first person which help to break some of the emotional tension as well as adding more depth to her character. The main chapters are written in third person; a few times I wondered if it might have worked better in first person but perhaps this would have made the writing too raw and too oppressive for the reader - or possibly the author as they try and maintain that line between memoir and fiction.
About a third or so in to the story we meet Camille, Lucy's husband's teenage daughter from a previous marriage. This is a welcomed character as although she in turn brings with her a different kind of emotional tension, it does allow the story to open up and explore parenting and marriage in a wider context. For the reader it also distracts us from the enormous sadness of Lucy's situation with the potential promise of a happy ending. Well, perhaps anyway - Camille is also a character on a journey and with her own issues and heartbreak. I was grateful for the introduction of more characters, relationships, dynamics, drama and insight into the domestic set up of the family. I also found the revelations from Lucy's childhood added a further complication to the novel and a further level of characterisation.
If I am being honest there were several moments when I thought I would have to put the book down and let the publisher know I was not in a position to review this title. But I didn't. And I'm glad I didn't. There were some sentences in Prowse's novel that literally knocked my breath out and threw me straight back into hospital rooms. Prowse has not fictionalised or over dramatised the brutally medical and factual language used by hospital staff and Lucy's reaction to this is vividly conveyed and upsettingly familiar.
I admire Prowse for writing this novel. I think it is a novel that offers hope and it is ultimately about love and finding your way home. It's not a book I found easy to read or review but it has not deterred me from recommending it or from reading something else by this author. It might be a book that could be used by midwives and hospital staff, health visitors and friends. It is a book that offers solace and in some ways is reassuring to see how characters play out, resolve and guide themselves through their experiences. Have your tissues ready before you begin though, you'll need them.
"The Idea of You" was published on 21st March 2017.
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