Book Review: Before We Say Goodbye by Louise Candlish

‘Why did she direct me to the only man in the world who can make me feel like this?’ The day Maggie Lane dies, she sends her daughter Olivia a letter containing dangerous information: the address of Olivia’s first love, Richie Briscoe. Olivia has not seen Richie for over twenty years, not since his desertion of her as a teenager almost destroyed her for good. She cannot understand why her mother’s last act should be to stir up old drama like him. Convinced that the note represents an admission of guilt, Olivia sets off for the idyllic seaside village where Richie now lives with his young daughter Wren. Soon she has fallen for him all over again – and found in little Wren the daughter she never had. But there is a problem. For Olivia already has a husband and two sons. And where does this second chance at happiness put them?

I had mixed feelings throughout reading this book. It started off quite well, with Olivia meeting her terminally ill mother on the eve of her death, her mother trying to apologise and Olivia not allowing her to do so. I was instantly intrigued and drawn into the plot, what exactly had Maggie done that resulted in her daughter, and son Dean, hate her so much?

However, as the mystery of the letter containing Richie’s address began to take shape, I started to really struggle with the book. The main reason for this was that I just couldn’t connect or relate with Olivia as a character at all. When she arrives in Richie’s village she doesn’t tell him why she is there, and to begin with plans only to stay a couple of days, but ends up just hanging around. This is clearly supposed to be some sort of breakdown resulting from her mother’s death, however I feel it was so flippantly handled by the author it just didn’t ring true. I found it very difficult to believe in. I didn’t have an issue about her leaving her own children, I do feel I would have been able to empathise with this, but despite being written in the first person from Olivia, I found the writing to be quite unemotional and detached. In an emotive plot like this I feel it’s vital the reader can empathise and become emotionally involved with the lead character. Unfortunately on this occasion I could not and I didn’t really have a clue what she was feeling or what was driving her.

It wasn’t just Olivia I found unbelievable as a character. Richie also had me bewildered. I’m fairly certain if an ex from my youth turned up twenty years later, having walked out on their life and clearly in the midst of a nervous breakdown, I’d have some questions. Richie just accepts that she’s hanging around him like a stalker, in fact he leaves his own 5 year old daughter with Olivia. I couldn’t accept anyone would be like this, and again it didn’t ring true. It all seemed contrived and quite unlikely.

I was able to sympathise with Olivia’s husband, Russell, who we visit regularly through the book in the third person. I found that when the author was writing this way, things were vastly improved. I think perhaps the whole book would have been better this way, as Olivia just isn’t deep enough for the first person narrative she is given to carry this story off. There were also some humorous and incredibly endearing moments here, as he struggles to tackle domesticity and childcare as well as a full-time job. I liked him very much and thought he was very well written.

However, things weren’t all bad and there were also some very good parts. I particularly enjoyed the flashbacks to Olivia’s own childhood, littered throughout the book. I found young Olivia far easier to relate too, was completely drawn in to the intensity of her and Richie’s young love affair, and the following devastation she feels when he leaves. I also found Olivia’s mother, Maggie an intriguing and complex character. I’d have loved to know more about her.

Another praise I have for the book overall is that I never quite knew where it was going. I had ideas forming in my head, but it ended up not being the case, and despite my other criticisms it certainly wasn’t predictable. The book came full circle and ended extremely well. The final 100 pages were by far the best and although I’d been able to take it or leave it for much of the middle, I couldn’t put it down in the end. In the final 5 pages I found myself feeling the emotions I’d really wanted to feel all the way through and ended the story with a lump in my throat and feeling pleased I’d persevered, as at one point I was on the verge of giving up completely. The only thing that kept me going was that I had nothing else with me to read.

Overall, I found this a disappointing book. While there were highs to the story, they just didn’t outweigh the lows completely for me. The premise was great. It looked at how a mother’s actions can affect her children, if it’s possible to find forgiveness and is history always destined to repeat itself. It tackles a more taboo area, of a mother being selfish rather than selfless and a father being the constant and stable caring figure. This is an interesting and refreshing angle to take, as there are any amount of books about single mothers or woman who have been wronged by a man and I do applaud the author for writing a story showing the opposite can also be true. Sadly the two dimensional Olivia ruined what could have been a very good book and on the whole made it unbelievable and unmoving. I felt that Olivia’s past and nervous breakdown were sold out for a tacky romance and that’s a real shame.

My Rating: 2.5