Reviewed by Emma Crowley
What if your estate agent could find you not just your perfect house, but your perfect job, your perfect partner... your perfect new life?
On paper, Iris Atkins is an estate agent, but she's not just good at finding suitable houses for her clients. In fact, she has a gift: Iris is able to see into their lives and understand exactly what is missing and what they need - and not just in bricks-and-mortar terms either.
Of course, concentrating so much on fixing other people's problems doesn't leave much time for examining your own. Over the course of one whirlwind year Iris discovers that while she may know what's best for everyone else, she doesn't necessarily know what's best for herself - and what she finds out could make her happier than she'd ever dreamed of.
Love or Nearest Offer is the first book I have read by Adele Geras. Truthfully I had never heard of this author before seeing this book on the internet and I have since discovered what an impressive back catalogue she has and how beloved by many readers she is. What first caught my attention was the beautiful, colourful cover which evokes such a homely feel. Both the blurb and the tag-line 'A house move. A new life. A second chance at love' had me intrigued and keen to discover what story awaited me between the covers of this eye catching book.
Initially there is a whole cast of characters to get to know and identify with and admittedly it was slightly confusing in the beginning to familiarise yourself with each character and their accompanying storyline but once the reader overcomes this hurdle the story followed really well and it became a light, easy read. The writing or the plot is not taxing as you can let everything wash over you in a relaxing way. You don't need to spend endless pages deeply concentrating to follow the story although at times there was too much detail re specific houses and chains of buyers. I let this aspect of the story wash over me as I felt it the author became too bogged down in who was viewing what house and what their requirements were that the main points of the story nearly became lost and it could have detracted from the engaging story of love, friendship and connections to be found surrounding each character.
Love or the Nearest Offer is set in Barnet and follows our main female protagonist Iris Atkins who is working for Robinson and Tyler estate agents. The story develops over the seasons and the various ups and downs in the real estate agents. But this much more than a story of buying and selling houses, it is the story of the people who buy them and why? What has led these characters to Iris and can she do that little bit extra besides helping them find their dream home. Iris is in her 30's but from the way she acts and is portrayed in the book I thought she was an awful lot older. The writing made me think this book was aimed slightly at the older generation, Iris appeared very wise and a person who could be a confident and support to many despite being not as experienced in worldly terms as some of the other characters.
Iris was a great character although at times her actions and thought process really frustrated me. She seemed to be able to sort everybody elses problems with a little ingenuity and some heartfelt actions but when it came to her own life it looked as though to me she played people around a bit before making her mind up even if the person she was dealing with wasn't that nice, it seemed as if she was using said person until something better came along. Iris is at a crossroads in her life she is successful in her job and continues to make great strides in her chosen profession helping others in the search for their ideal long term home and she should be applauded for the way her caring, kind, thoughtful approach is put to good use. On the other hand her personal life doesn't equate to that to of her professional world, her friends are all married and have children and they seem to be poles apart from where she is. Iris is firm in her beliefs that she doesn't want children and there is nothing wrong with that at all but now she is bored in her relationship with Neil. She finds him overbearing and pushy always looking for something she can't provide. So Iris supposedly dumps him and moves back to her mother's house, yes a step down when you have achieved some level of independence but she can't put up with Neil any longer. My issue with this was that for quite some time in the book Iris seemed to want her cake and eat it too, she continued to string Neil along and couldn't make up her mind just to dump him. I wished she had just firmly got rid of him as there is always plenty more fish in the sea.
Iris loves her job and enjoys weaving her magic connecting people with the home that is right for them 'She felt she had the power like the fairy godmother Bruce jokingly said she was, to prevent mistakes and guide her clients towards what would suit them best'. It's the clients who really shone through for me in this book and their stories even though as I have mentioned there were quite a few to get to know in the beginning. Aidan is the one who perhaps stands out for me the most and I was surprised how I empathised with him and understood where he was coming from. He had been married for 30 years to his beloved Grace. Sadly it has been two years since she has passed away and Aidan is lost in more ways than one. Slowly he is starting to realise just how much Grace meant to him but also how much she did for him around the house in terms of everyday life. Aidan is lonely and still grieving but beginning to understand he needs to move as this is what his beloved would have wished for him. I had so much empathy for Aidan and felt a deep connection with him from the outset which normally I never would with male characters. The author really got inside Aidan's head and heart and really you just wanted to reach through the pages and give him a big squeeze. You could sense his vulnerability and wished nothing but good for him. That he may find some sort of comfort and solace and the first step in towards achieving this would be to put his beautiful house on the market. Here steps in Iris and there is much more than selling a house on her mind. She always has her matchmaking and problem solving skills ready to put to good use. We also meet Vina - her house is too big for her after all her kids are now grown up and have fled the nest, one being married and the other Libby renting a cottage in Cornwall whilst pursuing her fledging jewellery business. Geoff her ex is firmly out of the picture or so she would like to think. It's time for her to move on and do something for herself although the emotional attachment to her home may prevent her from moving at the pace she should be ready for at this stage. Vina wasn't my favourite character even though I enjoyed how her storyline developed and intertwined with others.
Perhaps the most annoying (and I hate using that word but that was how she made me feel) character was Josie married to Rob with a young boy called Zac. They live in an expensive, stunning apartment in London with panoramic views but that's not what Josie really wants. She longs to move to the country and experience the life she glimpses in rural lifestyle magazines. I felt this storyline had been done before, in fact only last week had I read a book in which one of the characters had virtually the same storyline. Josie puts her husband under constant pressure to move although he seems happy with where they are living. His main concern would be the commute to work and even though circumstances change I just felt Josie was constantly nagging her husband and would pursue the move whether she had his full backing or not. I understood her reasons for wanting a change and a nice area for Zac to grow up in with his his much longed and asked for puppy but overall this family didn't appeal to me the most out of all the characters and I wasn't that overly interested in their outcome. Josie honestly just came across as selfish and constantly moaning, she was going to get what she wanted whether everybody else liked it or not. In this day and age I thought she should have been happy with what she had as others have so little. Patrick is the last character I shall mention - a painter who comes to Iris looking for big walls. Patrick doesn't feature much until nearly the end and honestly by the time he arrives on the scene I had forgotten he had even been mentioned in the first place. Yes he ties in OK with the overall picture and provides happiness but I think he could have been left out as he was brought in so late the reader wasn't given time to fully get to know him. I didn't feel the connection he had with a character it just seemed so rushed and as if the author needed to tie up loose ends.
Love or Nearest Offer was a nice enough introduction to the writing of Adele Geras. It's not a bad book but it didn't blow me away like I had been expecting. I get the sense from reading other reviews that like myself people enjoyed this book but there was something that I can't quite put my finger on that was missing that would have taken this book to another level. Towards the end there was so much back and forth between the characters and selling houses, making decisions, changing their minds umpteen times that I lost track and lost interest slightly too. I appreciated the character of Iris and how she put her clients at the forefront of her mind and wanted happiness, security and comfort for all. Really the book did go on that bit too long towards the end and it could have been shortened and still had the same outcome. Overall Love or the Nearest offer was a good book, nice and relaxing that won't prove to be too testing. Ideal for a summer easy read. It's not my favourite book this year but I would still like to read more of Adele Geras' work in the future.
Many thanks to Quercus books for my copy of Love or Nearest Offer to review via NetGalley and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.