Finding a good book is a high like no other for me, but finding a great one by pure chance is akin to winning the lottery to an avid reader like me. From the moment I read this book’s blurb, I have been obsessed with it. There is simply no other way to put it—obsessed with the unconventional storyline, drawn in by the tone of the narrative, but most of all, intrigued by how a plotline of that type could be turned into a love story. And let me tell you, my skin tingled from the very first page. It is incredible that a book of this caliber could be someone’s debut novel because the writing style is flawless, competent, truly sophisticated and engaging, and in no time, the story pulls you in like a rip current and your mind does not know which way is up. Nothing prepared me for the way it manipulated my mind, shaking all my previously held beliefs and preconceptions about certain scenarios, and stretching it in such a way that I wholeheartedly adored every convoluted, complicated, messy, borderline crazy part of it.
“A junkie. A sponger. A pregnant virgin who’d kissed her sister’s man in a fit of pique.”
Paisley is a troubled eighteen-year-old who feels unwelcome in her own family. Forever in the shadow of her hateful older sister Caroline, her every mistake stands in stark contrast to her seemingly perfect sibling. But Paisley’s rebellious nature is a mere reaction to a past marred by abuse, psychological neglect by her parents and systematic disparagement at the hands of her only sister. She has channeled all her anger and hurt into drug and alcohol abuse, coming across as a very cynical, defiant and promiscuous young woman, preferring to feed that image of her in people’s minds, rather than show her true nature to those closest to her.
When confronted with a positive result on a pregnancy test, Paisley finds herself facing impending motherhood technically as a virgin, her only sexual act not having even been one of a fully penetrative nature. Scared and confused, and drawn even more to her addictions as a means of escaping reality, Paisley’s life comes to a standstill when her sister Caroline returns home a few days before her wedding wishing to introduce her fiancé James to the family. Nothing could have prepared Paisley for her body’s reaction to her future brother-in-law, their attraction immediate and almost primal. But while James’ body says one thing, his verbal dismissal of her and his condescending tone deeply hurt Paisley, her jerk reaction being one of acting out her every desire out of spite, all consequences be damned.
“Maybe one day you’ll find a man who doesn’t mind settling for what you offer, but even if I didn’t love Caroline, you wouldn’t meet my standards, regardless of how long it’s been since I’ve had a screw up against the wall.”
One night of passionate love-making and drunken abandon, one case of mistaken identity, and Paisley finally loses her virginity to the only man she has truly ever physically connected with. But when the day of her sister’s wedding finally arrives, the mere idea of watching the man whom she still reluctantly desires getting married to a sister she detests, coupled with copious amounts of alcohol, lowers her already non-existent inhibitions and makes her spill the beans on their one night of passion in front of the entire bridal party, even claiming the groom to be the father of her unborn child. At this point, we are merely at the one-third mark in the storyline and the roller-coaster has just begun.
“What the f*ck had I just done?”
Seven years later, after turning her life around and conquering her addictions while studying and working abroad, Paisley returns to London wishing to seek absolution for her past mistakes and hoping to build some sort of relationship with the son she abandoned shortly after his birth. But some mistakes are easier to correct than others, and Paisley soon discovers the true consequences of all her lies, hurting James and changing his life forever being the hardest one to accept.
“I hate what I did to you. You offered me your friendship and I made you my enemy.”
Now, I will once more reiterate that this story is messy beginning to end, but to me in that convoluted messiness lies its true beauty. It does not pretend to give us perfect characters—they are flawed, misguided, self-absorbed and self-indulgent at times—but they also learn from their mistakes and try to make amends even when doing so could jeopardize their own happiness. The tone of the book, told in the heroine’s voice, remains frank and direct, especially as she explores the depths of her own imperfections, making her one of the most self-aware characters I have ever come across. That self-awareness made me fall in love with all her shortcomings, it made me empathize with her, understand her actions, and cheer for her until the very end.
“I don’t know whether I hated him or not. Maybe I did—in the way you can hate things that are forever beyond your reach.”
And amidst all that mess there is a beautiful love story, one I kept re-reading for days after I first finished this book, wishing to stay immersed in the storyline and to absorb every detail that I might have missed the first time around. There are elements of this story that I will not mention to you because they can only be understood in the context of the whole picture, but I can guarantee that at no point will this story stop holding you captive, titillating your mind and making it run in a million different directions while you attempt to come to terms with the characters’ actions and how they fit within your own set of moral beliefs. I personally loved Paisley, and I connected with every borderline crazy facet of her complex personality. But I am the type of person who is attracted to scenarios of ‘cause and effect’—I am drawn to characters whose actions are the result of something else in their lives, a single event or a whole history of them, and Paisley is the perfect example of a young woman who reacts to her surroundings almost instinctively, her every mistake speaking volumes about the pain she desperately tries to hide from the world around her.
I walked away from this book smiling, my heart so full from some perverse sense of satisfaction that the ‘underdog’ in life got what everyone always tried to prevent her from getting. This is not so much a story about redemption or even absolution in the end—it is a story about two people truly accepting each other, flaws and mistakes and all, and building their happy ending based on the knowledge that nothing in life would make them as happy as being in each other’s arms. I’m telling you again, however, this plotline is twisted, mind-blowing, far-fetched at times, but every part of it fit the story perfectly, and it was crazy beautiful in my eyes start to finish.
“I wish we’d never made love.”
“We didn’t make love. We f*cked. All night long.”