Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Stella Ainsworth has settled for suburban peace with a pedantic husband, a dissatisfied daughter and a clutch of beloved grandchildren - who all take her presence in their lives for granted.
Then Cameron Keene, her boyfriend from her teenage years who'd left for America to become a rock icon of the Sixties, returns to England.
Much to Stella's astonishment, Cameron announces in an interview that his most famous song, which became a legendary love anthem across the world, was written about Stella, and that he has come back to find her.
What Became of You My Love? is the first book I have read by Maeve Haran although she has previously written one book of non fiction and several contemporary fiction novels. The cover for this book is stunning, it is beautiful and colourful and has a title that instantly piques your interest. On looking at the blurb for this book the whole concept/theme seemed to be different to anything I had read in this genre for awhile. Instead of boys meets girl, experience a few ups and downs then finally they stay together we have something very different and original. Maeve Haran poses the question – How would it feel to be the inspiration for a legendary love song? Your first love writes a song about you that goes on to be a big hit, the only problem being you never realised the song was about you. Years later you are married with grown up children and are now a grandmother when a famous rock star comes on the radio to announce he's searching for the woman who inspired the song and he claims it's our main protagonist Stella Ainsworth. What is Stella to do? What will people think especially her family? Stella's quiet suburban life is about to be thrown on its head. But will it prove to change everything she has known for the last number of years or else provide a welcome relief from the marriage that has become quite ordinary?
I had been slightly apprehensive before beginning this read that it would be similar to the books written by Hilary Boyd. I have read some of Hilary's work and found them aimed more at the older reader and I had to trudge through them to finish. I felt the same would happen with this book but my fears were quashed within the first few pages even if some sections proved to be hard work the further I read. The writing is a lot easier to follow and the book felt light even though it was dealing with some serious issues. The humour was balanced finely with the main theme of the book and overall it was a good read if a little long and ultimately a mixed bag.
The prologue opens in 1969 with Stella very young and innocent and in a relationship with rock star Cameron Keene who is on the verge of success. They are recording a song at Glebe House. The song proves to have such raw longing, pain and passion that little do they know it will have an impact that will last for many years to come. The night before the recording Stella had a 'liaison' with Cameron's friend and business manager Duncan and feels a bit lost and full of mixed feelings. Where does her heart lie? Fast forward many years to 2016 and Stella now 65 is married to Matthew who is retired and goes through phases of obsessions with various things - bric a brac and art for example. Matthew seemed a bit quirky and out of the loop with everything that was going on and really not the most romantic of people. After a lifetime of work and providing for himself his retirement has allowed him to become eccentric. Emma is their grown up daughter married to Stuart with three children – Jesse, Izzy and baby Ruby. Relations are strained between the pair with many arguments and this is beginning to affect the children. Lastly we have Suze best friend to Stella for as long as they can remember a person who is always up for a laugh and there to support you when you need it the most.
Things have been meandering along for Stella both in her personal and professional life. She enjoys her job painting pet portraits and views it as a chance to escape the house for some much needed me time. Things with Matthew have become routine and quite frankly boring and mundane. During this first few pages the author begins to have us thinking just what is left for couples once the children have left home and for some the romance is gone claiming box sets are the solution to a lot of couples finding themselves in this situation. I thought the following was a great observation 'falling in love, settling down, having children, paying off the mortgage, retiring and after that box sets'. Don't get me wrong Stella is happy with her life but maybe just not that happy with Matthew any more. So things are at a sort of a crossroads for Stella but boy are they about to change as while having breakfast one morning a fateful interview on the radio with Cameron Keene leads to a whole barrel of escapades and adventures that turns normality into some sort of wacky insanity. Stella can't fathom that she was the inspiration for a song that means so much to millions. Sure Cameron dumped her and she moved on with her life. 'One moment she was a suburban grandmother, the next, the inspiration of a world famous love song, oozing with pain and passion'. Soon Cameron, Duncan and co are landed on her doorstep as Cameron attempts to reinvigorate his career.
Cameron was the jaded rock star attempting to re-establish himself in the public eye after only minor hits in recent years. He hopes reconnecting with Stella will provide a future hit and catapult him back into the spotlight. His character just seemed that little bit clichéd – a number of ex wives and various children, very fond of a drink or three amongst other things and always had to have a battalion of staff who keep him on the straight and narrow. Duncan was still on the scene and practically organised Cameron's life. To be honest I can't see what the big attraction was with him at all. Relating back to the title of the book as it posed the question 'What Became of You My Love?' the answer just seemed to obvious and explained way too early. So to me the element of mystery and discovery that could have played out so well was not developed here at all and not utilised in the way it needed to be. Instead the book focused on Stella entertaining Cameron and his antics and also her quest alongside Suze to regenerate the local high street with a plan for stalls and a vintage market with the local pub playing their part as well. This was all lovely to read about but I wanted something a little bit more to keep me reading and entertained.
Alongside the humour and the frivolities of preparing for the market and keeping the dog painting going, a more serious issue began to creep in and I did become interested in this and was happy with it's development and exploration. As I have mentioned things between Emma and her husband are not the best. Fighting is constant at home and Jesse and Izzy hear things and take them to heart. Emma wants out of the home for several hours a day. She craves some independence instead of the same thing day after day looking after the kids. In fact she feels a bit neglected by Stuart and when an old flame offers her a job how can she resist? We strayed down a path here that many books have ventured down before but what made it just that little bit different was what proceeded to happen with Jesse. This aspect of the plot was well written and took us away from what had become monotonous. I liked how it played out and how Stella played her grandparent role so well. It showed us a different side to Stella and I began to care for her a little bit more.
I know I wasn't the target audience for this read as Stella is well over half my age but still books should appeal across a wide readership. For the most part this was a decent enough read but at times it lost its way and I found myself struggling to read chapters. There was a bit too much repetition of planning for their big event and of concerts etc. The relationship between Matthew and Stella deserved more attention throughout the novel not just towards the end. This just made the ending more rushed when our crucial moment could have come that little bit earlier and therefore allowed for development in the later chapters of the book. I'll admit the book did leave me open mouthed with surprise at the twist which I had never seen coming which on reflection was there for all to see and was really quite sweet. Finally it connected back to the title.The book is an easy enough read but I was expecting something different from reading the blurb and overall it didn't quite hit the mark for me. A bit too much going on at times and not enough in other parts didn't make for a gripping read rather a read which was fine to pass an afternoon.
Many thanks to Pan MacMillan for sending me a copy of What Became of You My Love? to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.