Fictional stories rarely surprise me anymore these days. Maybe I read too much, maybe my very vivid imagination has entertained every possible scenario, one way or another. Maybe I had started believing that it had all been done before. Until I read this book. I dove in expecting great storytelling, nothing more, and I walked away with my mind spinning in so many directions, everything I thought I had believed about relationships and true love having been shaken, questioned, stretched beyond my own limits of familiarity. I don’t know how I expected this story to unfold, but I certainly did not expect it to make me question the one thing I have always believed I knew the answer to – whether love indeed conquers all.
This is the story of a young woman, Sparrow, and her tumultuous love affair with the only man she has ever loved, Ian. The story carries us over a five year period, following the ups and downs of the young couple who quite simply define the concept of soul mates. What starts as a playful game of courting, soon develops into a genuinely loving and doting bond between two people who naturally gravitate towards one another. They love each other completely, obsessively, uncontrollably.
“I think of everything I have ever loved, possessed, wanted, worked for, hoped for, treasured in my life. I love you more.”
Ian is Sparrow’s first love. He is the first man to whom she gives her heart freely, entrusting him with all the innocence and untainted devotion of someone who has never experienced heartbreak before. He consumes her every thought, dream, hope for the future. We watch them grow as a couple, slowly, believably. We fall in love with them, their innocent banter, their unquestionable tenderness and blind devotion to one another. We are bewitched by the chemistry between them and by how wonderful it feels to imagine ourselves in their shoes. But no love is uncomplicated and Ian and Sparrow’s love is no exception.
While Sparrow is inexperienced and idealistic when it comes to matters of the heart, Ian’s faith in love is stained by a childhood that was everything but idyllic. He does not believe himself capable of truly and selflessly loving another person, he mistrusts the longevity of love and he fears being rejected, hurt, not being loved enough.
“I’m not a good person, Sparrow. I … I’m not. I look at you and I see all the good and I know that I could never deserve someone like you.”
Sparrow is the first woman in his life that has ever made him believe he could have it all – a love that knows no boundaries; a love that would never fail him and that would always be enough. She makes him want to change and be a better man for her, but ultimately, his self-doubts and ingrained scepticism force their relationship in a direction neither of them willingly take.
Their journey is one constant roller coaster ride, oscillating between intense moments of happiness and gut-wrenching episodes of heartbreak. It’s a story that had me clenching my hand against my chest so many times, willing myself not to cry. The gentle pace of the relationship unfolding before us pulls us in like a magnet, never knowing which direction it would take, what the author’s stance on love really is. She has created a gentle hero, a hero that is both fallible and infallible at the same time. He loves with such intensity of emotion, such openness and devotion. He is romantic, attentive, affectionate, demonstrative, shamelessly in love with our heroine, committed to her body and soul. But by idolising her, he creates unrealistic expectations of himself, constantly expecting himself to fail her, and eventually he does just that.
“Sparrow. You are perfect.”
“No, I’m not.”
“To me, you are.”
A book that is so impeccably and skilfully structured, a story that is so truthfully and touchingly told, Ms Aster’s writing style is something to take note of. It is flawless, original, and it awoke every romantic bone in me. It is a story about the enduring power of love, about forgiveness and finding our own version of happiness in life. It’s an untraditional love story but it is an epic one nonetheless. By every standard possible, this book is an absolute must read.
“No pain, no rejection, no separation, no depression, no opposition, no fiery hell can drive you out of my heart.”
“Sparrow Fisher, it’s sinful to have a body like that,” Ian says with a smirk. “You sure know how to fill out a dress.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” I ask, tilting my head to the side.
“Hell, yes.” He laughs. “You know it is. Sparrow, meet J. Elliot. J, I’d like you to meet Sparrow Fisher, the love of my life.”
My eyes go wide as I shake J. Elliot’s hand. “I can’t believe you just said that,” I say to Ian, even though I’m looking at Mr. Elliot. Focus, Fisher.
They both laugh and Elliot says, “Miss Fisher, I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time. I needed to see the girl who turned Ian Sterling around.” I study Mr. Elliot then and try to read how much he knows.
“Hello, Mr. Elliot,” I reply.
“No ‘Mister’, please. Call me J … or Elliot. You know what? I’ll answer to anything you say,” he says smoothly.
Ian introduces Tessa, and she quickly takes the pressure off of me.
“We’re going dancing!” she says with excitement.
“Is that right? Well, let us take you – no need to get a cab, right, Ian? We were about to head out on the town ourselves.”
I wonder what mischief they were about to get up to … on second thought, no, I don’t want to know.
Jared walks in just then, saving us once again.
With the three of them chatting around us, Ian touches my elbow. “Sparrow? I’d love to be wherever you are, but I don’t want to make you uncomfortable. Will I? Can we be together tonight?” Ian asks it innocently enough, but my mind goes to all the nights we’ve had and it’s far from innocent.
When I go purple, Ian smiles a wicked grin and leans down by my ear, his breath tickling my neck and sending chill bumps all over my skin. “I’ll behave,” he whispers.
“You don’t know the meaning of being ‘have’,” I whisper back. It’s amazing how easily we fall back into our lusty banter.
The Maison 508 is going strong when we get there. Tessa and Jared start dancing immediately. J sees a musician he knows and gets engrossed in a conversation.
Ian stays by my side, not touching me, but no more than an inch away at all times.
“Dance?” he asks.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”
“Okay.” He nods, as if I’ve said something very intelligent.
“You know what? I do want to. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced.”
He lights up and holds his hand out for me to take.
It’s a strange feeling after you’ve known someone so intimately, to maintain any sort of distance or to pretend that you don’t know their body better than you know your own. When Ian pulls me in and his body makes contact with mine, the currents pulse through us both. I know what he feels without looking at him. I know if I touch the small of his back like this or slightly rub my chest against his just so, it will drive him wild. He knows that my neck is sensitive and that I love it when he pulls my back against him. We try for about ten minutes to avoid these triggers, but the rhythm picks up in the room and the impulse is too strong. He swipes my hair off my neck first to say something in my ear, I rub my chest against his, lightly touch his back, he whips me around and presses me against the front of him.
Like dominos falling one by one, our pretenses fall away and we dance.
My hands say what my mouth cannot. I look in his eyes and see the love I feel gazing back at me.
He touches my face, my hair, my shoulders, my heart, my back, my thighs. I get lost in it. I move into him, matching him touch for touch. It’s intoxicating. His hands on me feel like finding water after years in the desert. It fills me up, as only he can do.