Reviewed by Emma Crowley
In the early years, she was happy.
Romilly had worked hard for her stunning, modern house in one of Bristol's most fashionable suburbs. She adored her gorgeous, gap-toothed daughter and her kind and handsome husband. Sure, life was sometimes exhausting - but nothing that a large glass of wine at the end of the day couldn't fix.
But then, as deep-buried insecurities surfaced, everything started to unravel. A glass of wine became a bottle; one bottle became two. Once, Romilly's family were everything to her. Now, after years of hiding the drinking, she must finally admit that she has found another love...
Over the past year I have become a big fan of Amanda Prowse's work, she is never afraid to tackle hard hitting, relevant issues to our world today. Other authors in her genre shy away from writing about themes which they fear may alienate their readers who coming looking for light, fluffy reads. Not so with Amanda she really gets to the heart of the matter through her incredible story telling ability. Her way with words is amazing and has you deeply invested in the story-lines and characters. In fact she does this in such a way that has the most profound effect on you as a reader. Your eyes are opened to topics that you may have given scant thought to previously and when you have finished reading the book you want to make everyone aware of the issue that Amanda had brought to your attention. Amanda's books are very powerful and emotive. One minute you may have a smile on your face as you read a warm comforting scene the next you reach for the tissues as a torrent of emotional upheaval is unleashed that eaves you a sobbing mess. That's the strength and depth in Amanda's writing. All her characters and story-lines are raw, strong, honest and have earned so many fans always eager for the next release myself included.
This new release Another Love (part of the No Greater Courage series - all written as standalone books) comes not long after the truly gorgeous book that was The Christmas Café. That's what I like about Amanda's writing her ability to change things up never staying with the same predictable plot line rehashed in slightly different ways over several books. Her Christmas book was a nice easy read with a lovely message at its heart but here she tackles the increasingly controversial subject of middle class women's alcoholism. Quite frankly the facts at the end of the press release are really frightening. Described as gritty and emotional Another Love proved to be all that and another stunning, deep, remarkable and impressive read that deserves to be read by many. Once again Amanda Prowse has truly proven what a confident, exceptionally important author she really is. The title Another Love really connects to the main theme of the book and I love this, too often I am left thinking what in god's name had that title anything to do with what happened in the book. Here Romilly has found another love not that of her family but that of alcohol. Is this love taking over her life in such a way that her old life is irretrievable? I was more than keen to discover the answer.
The prologue to Another Love opens with Romilly, our main protagonist, writing a letter to her daughter Celeste who is now grown up. Right from the first paragraph you are sucked into the magnificent writing as Amanda excels in getting inside the heart and mind of an alcoholic who has reached as low as she can go. 'I had it all. People often say that, don't they? But I really did, and I guess that's the hardest thing for me to fathom, how I unpicked my existence strand by strand until everything I held dear lay in a pile like a fine knitted garment reduced to knotty wool'. From here on the book is interspersed with Celeste writing diary entries as encouraged to do so by her psychiatrist. It was vital this was included in the novel as we get both the child and adult version of how Celeste views what happened specifically to her mother and ultimately the family unit. The rest of the chapters are from Romilly's viewpoint. She admits herself that she has two personalities. On one hand she is shy, nice, loving and happy in her relationship and marriage with David Wells. She met David at university and they have been inseparable since. On the other hand once a drop of alcohol passes her lips she becomes cruel, heartless, mean, destructive and angry. I really could go on as her bad side made itself known for the majority of the book. Alcoholism is an invisible illness where people think it is a choice where really it is not as Romilly herself says would I really choose this if given a choice? 'This other love is so strong that she will do anything, anything if it means they can slope off together and snatch some illicit moments of pure pure joy'. You may think Romilly is talking about David but sadly not it's her love of drink.
Alcohol made Romilly somebody else and not necessarily a better person. Behind this bravado, this falseness is an insecurity a fear that she is not good enough and no matter how hard she tries she never will be. She feels second best and that she doesn't deserve David or Celeste in her life. I really thought where did this all stem from? Was it her childhood? Or is it just the disease talking? David was more than a father/husband, he was Romilly's friend and soulmate, another piece of her as she was of him. Part of him was broken, hurting and resentful at what was unfolding before his very eyes as Romilly's life both professional and family disintegrated. But David was a stalwart and a rock and couldn't give up on his 'bug' his forever love. No way could he take Celeste and run and abandon the woman he promised to spend the rest of his life with through sickness and in health. His love for Romilly shone through where I would have been tempted to run. 'Only ever you.It's only ever you Romilly, despite what you think and despite what you worried about' .Several times I was shouting at the book just go David, just go think of Celeste. No little girl should have to witness her mother carrying on the way Romilly was. The further I read the more angry I became and I kept rapidly turning the pages to discover the conclusion to this brilliant book. Would I get the ending I wanted?
Sara - Romilly's neighbour and so called friend to me can be compared to the devil - always there tempting and teasing encouraging Romilly to do the wrong thing. Leading her in the total opposite direction she should be going in. Taking negative steps further backwards instead of positive steps towards her future and sobriety. Just as Romilly is attempting to establish herself on the straight and narrow there comes that little voice in the form of Sara inside her head or tapping her on her shoulder urging Romilly on to do the most destructive things possible. The one thing that might bring you relief for a short while but in the long term will cause only utter devastation and heartbreak - to drink even more. Sara was that person that devil, your bad conscience and could certainly not be classed as a good neighbour. Her arrival into the cul-de-sac where Romilly and David lived spelled nothing but trouble from the beginning. She made me wonder had Romilly not encountered her would her fall to the very very bottom have even occurred in the first place? Or was it Romilly's addictive nature the cause? Or maybe it really is an illness that once it takes hold it is extremely difficult to relinquish its grip?
The more we read the more Romilly continues to spiral out of control and plummets to the lowest of lows. A lot of the things that she does in my mind were unforgivable. The scene where she meets David in the café for the first time was devastating and heartbreaking in equal measure and showed just how powerful alcohol really is. It also made me very very angry with Romilly, just when you begin to think surely Romilly cannot venture any further into the depths of depravity she plummets and my god Amanda threw everything at her main character here and was blatantly honest in her vivid,realistic, horrific descriptions.In fact so much so Romilly really repulsed me and more than once I was left open mouthed with shock and disgust. Throughout the book I can't say I really liked Romilly. In fact was I really meant to? When she was sober and trying she seemed nice enough but really the portrayal of her character was written so well I just couldn't like her or what she was putting her family through. Yes, of course I did feel sympathy for her and can totally understand how this disease is like fighting an endless war that is determined not to be won. But at what point should we say enough is enough?
Another Love was a difficult, challenging read and must have been equally as hard for Amanda to write. She doesn't shy away from the brutal realities of what alcohol can do to you or the twisted lies and secrets an alcoholic is forced into. She really lets loose with the descriptions of Romilly's binges and the fall out for each family member is clearly shown. Amanda builds a phenomenal picture of a woman torn apart by her love for something that comes in a bottle. That will create in you a bigger love for it than that of the love you once believed you held for your family. All of this left me loathing and caring for Romilly in equal measure. Although even after finishing this read I'm beginning to wonder is Romilly one of the first characters I have read for a very long time and not fully liked by the end despite everything I have read? I feel Romilly and her actions will divide readers and provide endless discussion.
Another Love is the perfect book for a book club. There would be endless discussion, of opinions and arguments. It would be brilliant if this book was picked for a future Richard and Judy Book Club. I feel like I say this about each of the books I have reviewed by Amanda But Another Love really is her best book. It's so accomplished and well written. I was drained after completing it but it also proved such an eye opener on so many levels. How on earth can she top this? It's only January and it was the first book I read this year but my god I have a strong feeling this will be featuring in my top books of the year come the end of 2016.
Many thanks to Simeon Prowse and Head of Zeus for sending me a copy of Another Love to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.