Reviewed by Emma Crowley
With her fortieth birthday approaching, Lucy Carpenter thinks she finally has it all: a wonderful new husband, Jonah, a successful career and the chance of a precious baby of her own. Life couldn’t be more perfect.
But becoming parents proves much harder to achieve than Lucy and Jonah imagined, and when Jonah’s teenage daughter Camille comes to stay with them, she becomes a constant reminder of what Lucy doesn’t have. Jonah’s love and support are unquestioning, but Lucy’s struggles with work and her own failing dreams begin to take their toll. With Camille’s presence straining the bonds of Lucy’s marriage even further, Lucy suddenly feels herself close to losing everything…
Amanda Prowse has the most phenomenal output when it comes to the publication of her books and keeping her readers happy. It feels like no sooner have I finished one incredible read than the next publication day is upon us and this is such a great thing. Too often I finish a book and think, god I have such a long wait for the next story from this author but Amanda never lets her loyal readers down. One may think given the numerous publications per year that the standard of writing and the storylines would slip and waver and not be as good as the last but that is certainly not the case. Each book is always of such a high calibre, impeccably researched and packed full of heartfelt, realistic emotions that the women of today can identify with.
The topics the author covers are varied and are always hard hitting and it's rare that one scene or certain characters in Amanda's books don't find a place in your heart right from the beginning and never let go until the last word. Amanda Prowse is like the English Jodi Picoult and in my mind far more accessible than said author - her books are engaging and relevant to the times we live in today whereas Jodi Picoult became far too formulaic and in later books quite stale. Amanda writes about ordinary women like you and me who find their comfortable lives disrupted and then in turn need to find the strength to overcome the obstacles placed directly in their path to happiness. Their strength, courage, dedication and love are tested in ways you would never think possible.
This new book from Amanda The Idea of You questions what it is like to be a mother in today's hectic world where there is untold pressure from women on all sides to conform, to become a mother and do the best job possible. There is so many advertisements on the TV about what we need to be the best mother possible and endless advice is offered on the internet and in online chat rooms. But what if your long held dream of becoming a mum can't become a reality despite you giving it every best shot possible? How do you cope especially when motherhood in a strange way comes calling at your door and you can't slam said door in the situations face?
Our main female protagonist Lucy finds herself in this situation and through reading this story we see her go through a myriad of emotions as she battles to come to terms with the life changing problems she is presented with. From the brief prologue the reader can immediately sense Lucy has been through something in her past which still deeply affects the person she is today and her thought process around attempting to become a mother. There are minor hints alluded to as to what it could be throughout the book and it was only in the later half that it clicked with me just exactly what had occurred and when this happened it changed the way I thought about Lucy and the way she acted but in a good way. If I had discovered this any earlier while reading I think I would have read way deeper into Lucy's situation instead of taking everything at face value until it was the correct time to dig deeper beneath the surface as to what was truly going on. Next we meet Lucy at a christening and as she stands and watches her godson being baptised she wonders was she at aged 39 'losing a race she didn't know she had entered, she hadn't heard the starter pistol, and by the time she looked up, everyone she knew of a similar age seemed to be half way round the track'. Even this line showcases what a talented author Amanda Prowse is to convey with such simple words the entire crux of the novel and how Lucy is feeling.
At the christening, as mentioned above, Lucy meets Jonah and her life changes as they catch sight of each other. Soon they are married and living happily together looking forward to having children and completing Lucy's long held dream. Yes there is pressure from relatives and others to have this perfect baby as women are meant to be made whole when the wonderful bundle arrives. 'It is an incredible thing when you have a child, not only for yourself, but it's a wonderful gift for the whole family'. I couldn't agree more with this statement as recently I have become an Auntie for the first time and after a traumatic event this has been wonderful and a form of healing.
By day Lucy works in a high powered job in an advertising agency and by night she enjoys time with Jonah and knits beautiful baby items for a much wished child. She longs to feel complete and fulfilled. She has no doubt that she can juggle a career with parenthood if only that wish would become a reality. Throughout we can feel Lucy's devastation that she is struggling to conceive that it could be possible that it may never comes to pass that, she holds a warm bundle in her arms. 'Her nose and throat were clogged with distress and her heart and womb pulsed with longing'. It doesn't help matters that Jonah's teenage daughter from a previous relationship Camille aged 16 comes to spend the summer with them from France and stays on longer than expected. How is Lucy supposed to cope with a teenage girl who is typical of her age and the situation she too finds herself in battling through her own personal emotions and in some ways her own version of hell on a daily basis?
Throughout the book I never once questioned the love that Lucy and Jonah had for each other. Yes times were turbulent and in more ways than one Lucy had to bite her tongue and hold back from saying explicitly how she was feeling but still that spark, that connection was always there and I fervently hoped for a positive outcome. Jonah sums up their relationship beautifully when he says 'I fell for you, hook, line and sinker, and I realised that you were my missing piece. I am happy with you by my side and without you I am not. It's that simple'. The issues surrounding Camille and her settling into their home, and Lucy adjusting to becoming a step mum whilst trying to have her own baby were written in an upfront, straight forward manner. The author never shied away from the harsh realities Lucy had to cope with every day. She tried to put on a front and do her best with Camille and she was brave to do this as I feel many of us would just give in and break down and not want to make that effort. Dealing with our own issues and troubles is enough without having to take on others even though I could see she tried to do it all for Jonah.
Camille didn't come across all that nice initially it was like she was jealous of the place Lucy held in her father's heart but as we dig deeper it's clear she has her own things going on and again this didn't feel out of place at all but rather a very good overall balance to the story when at times it could have become two one sided. Having a new daughter or stepmother there is bound to be problems no one can foresee. Not everything can be a bed of roses instantly or even permanently. A new relationship has to be formed and it all takes work, time and effort and may never turn out exactly the way we want it to what makes it doubly hard for Lucy is that her calling to be a mother, is not being answered as readily as she would hope it to be. 'It was an overwhelming, all consuming sensation that flavoured my food, coloured my opinions and influenced my choices'.
Amanda Prowse has again written another triumph of a book which will people will find difficult to read for its subject matter but by the end you will be glad you have done so. I am not the target audience for this book as I do not have children so maybe I wasn't quite as affected by what was ongoing as others who have children may be when they read this. That's not in any way to take away from the stunning story within the pages. The Idea of You was a beautifully crafted story full of complex characters and again a twist you would never see coming well maybe even more than one. I was certainly turning the pages to discover what the eventual outcome would be. This was an honest, raw and emotional account of what it means to be a mother and showcases what a naturally gifted storyteller Amanda Prowse is and how she can reach inside the minds of so many and write exactly how they are feeling in the most eloquent of ways. Again there were so many lines from this poem that I reread and savoured and wanted to write down and frame and it's very rare that I find this time and time again with an author.
I have no hesitation in recommending The Idea of You, it will provide some sort of healing and solace for those that need it and for others it is quite simply a brilliant read. We don't have long to wait until something new arrives from Amanda as I have spotted that The Art of Hiding is coming in July and it sounds just as good if not better than all her previous books.
Many thanks to Simeon Prowse for my copy of The Idea of You to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.