How are you all doing? Well, the first week back to school was a bit of a shock to the system, I can’t lie. It’s very difficult to maintain two metres distancing and teach or move around the building. We’ll get there. As long as we are all safe, that’s all that matters really.
I apologise for my absence but I’m here now to share with you my book for August which I did read in August but didn’t get round to reviewing for you all. The topic for the reading challenge that month was: a summer read to an exotic place. (For more information on my reading challenge click here.)
Very few of us got to visit the countries we wanted to this year so this was the perfect opportunity to drift off someplace good. However, I didn’t want it to just be a holiday romance type book. I decided to read One Year Later by Sanjida Kay. I’d found this by pure chance on my travels. I have to say, I really enjoyed it!
What’s it all about?
The novel opens with a date night between Amy and Matt. However, this isn’t just any date night. The history between them is difficult and challenging. Something doesn’t quite seem right. The pair are coexisting together but are barely living. Sadly, date night doesn’t even happy due to the arrival of Amy’s brother, Nick, is late for his baby sitting duties.
The death of Ruby-May is apparent right from the start. She’s a shadow over the entire plot but is never present. (Hence the title, One Year Later). The parents clearly are trying to function and cope with the circumstances for her death but ultimately they haunt the lives of everyone within the family unit.
To mark the upcoming one year anniversary, they make the brave decision to leave the country and head to Tuscany where, as a family, they will honour the event as one. Amy and Matt are joined by Nick, Bethany (Amy’s sister), Chloe (Matt’s other daughter) and the two super little ones, Lotte and Theo. Luca (nanny come child psychologist) and Bethany’s personal trainer. The only person not invited, rather awkwardly, is Amy’s dad. The blame for Ruby-May’s death lies firmly at his door in the eyes of Amy and Matt.
They arrive to beautiful Italy, the setting restoring some inner peace. They settle in for the evening as a group and chat idly. The following morning the first bomb shell happens… Nick arrives with their father. It is obviously clear that no one is pleased about this.
‘Amy feels as if she can’t breathe. She holds onto the table to stop herself from folding in two. Bethany pours them both prosecco and takes a long drink. She regards her father coldly. “Dad, why are you here?”‘
Begrudgingly, their father is allowed to stay and so begins a family holiday with the unusual amount of walking on egg shells.
Meanwhile, the narration changes and we head back to the past where we see a snapshot of what life was like before, with Ruby-May at the heart of it. The novel follows the structure throughout: we hear different voices at different times to create one story. The central figure being Ruby-May.
Over the next few days, the reader gains an image of a family that has been devastated and shattered beyond repair. They’re each trying to desperately hold onto their own little piece but it’s tinged by bursts of anger and grief. Amy is a shadow, clouded by wind. Everything is internal and living means going through the motions. Whereas husband Matt is full of rage and anger at all times. He seems to have a much better relationship with his ex wife than with Amy, something that Amy is all to aware of.
‘Amy continues to dunk her teabag, in and out, in and out, staring at a spot a foot or so in front of her. She’s still, a part from the small, mechanical movement of her wrist. The two pale children, fixated on their whey-faced mother, with her hacked off blonde hair and her dead eyes.’
Bethany is self obsessed and insensitive, possibly because of her career choice of being on TV. There is a feeling that this is a defence mechanism on her part, a way of distracting herself. Nick is desperately trying to hold it all together and please everything, often at the detriment to himself. His goal is to try and mend the family, help it heal. He too is carrying his own emotional scars which impact his every day life. These truths are revealed to us as the plot develops and unfolds.
Theo and Lotte provide the refreshing innocence that this book needs to prevent it from becoming too heavy and emotive. They’re happy go lucky and love life. They don’t really understand what’s happened but talk about Ruby-May as if she’s next door. They have a naivety to them that makes my heart melt. One of the most poignant scenes in the novel for me is where Nick, Lotte and Theo hold their own funeral for Ruby-May, using her doll.
“One day we all had a bath together – me, Lotte and Ruby-May. And I got out, because I didn’t want to be in the bath with two girls, and then Ruby-May did a poo. In the bath!” He collapsed with laughter. Lotte starts giggling too… abruptly they both stop. “She’s dead now,” says Lotte.
The novel has plenty of twists and turns and I don’t want to ruin them for you. However, the different perspectives create the full narrative as to what really happened the day Ruby-May was taken from them.
This book is a clear, poignant portrayal of grief and the devastation that the loss of a child would bring to a family. The hope of the beautiful Italian setting to try and calm them does become cathartic. As the sea laps the shore, time still passes and the family can learn to forgive and live as best as they can, taking Ruby-May in their hearts every single day.
I love this book for so many reasons. The split narratives are crucial for making the plot work. I felt like I knew and adored Ruby-May as much as the characters. The twists and turns mean that you never really know what’s coming next. I got my head around something but then another thing would happen which would call it all into question again. It kept me gripped until the last page because, like Amy and Matt, I needed to know what actually happened. I felt like I needed closure as much as they did.
Whilst not a conventional holiday novel, I’m so glad I read this. Italy’s serenity and sublime beauty was described so I felt like I was there. I loved the juxtaposition between this idyllic setting and the utter devastation they all feel.
This book is arguably one of my favourite this year. It’s utterly devastatingly real.
I’m off to prepare for another week of marathon running (meaning teaching!!). Stay safe all.
Big love xxx