Dear Thing by Julie Cohen
|Dear Thing by Julie Cohen|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: I don't think I've cried so much over a book since I was a little girl reading Anne of Green Gables and sobbing when poor Matthew dies! Involving, funny, heart-breaking and thoughtful - a beautiful story.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 400||Date: April 2013|
|Publisher: Bantam Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Richard and Judy Book Club Summer Read 2014
Everyone hopes for the happily ever after, and Claire and Ben expected that once they were married, once they had the house with a garden big enough for a swing, that the babies would naturally follow afterwards. So what happens when the babies don't? How long do you try to get pregnant? How long do you endure IVF? At what point do you say enough is enough, and let go of the dream? And what if, at that moment of feeling you simply cannot take any more, your best friend offered to be a surrogate mother, and carry your baby?
This is a story of surrogacy. It's also a story of marriage, and friendship, and love. Claire and Ben are the married couple who have been unable to have their own children, and it is Ben's best friend, Romily, who offers (whilst drunk) to carry their child for them. What complicates matters somewhat is that Romily is in love with Ben. She has been ever since she met him. Not that she'd ever do anything, or that she expects anything from him. She's a single mother herself, with a seven year old daughter called Posie. Ben and Claire have been involved in Posie's life right from the start and, indeed, Posie even likes to pretend they are her parents sometimes since they are a lot more normal than her own mother. Claire and Romily, meanwhile, have barely shared a word, or a moment alone together, the whole time that she and Ben have been together. Claire is jealous of Romily and her beautiful, intelligent daughter, and also a little scared of her too. Romily is unsettled by Claire who is a teacher, highly organised, very efficient, great at mothering, bakes perfect cakes and hosts perfect birthday parties for Posie. And of course Claire's married to the man Romily loves. And into all of this they're going to bring a brand new baby? It's a recipe for disaster...
I think before I begin properly I should explain that I know the author of this book. We met through our children and became friends. I have often listened to her talk about her writing, the wrestles with her characters and the niggles with her plots, but usually it's just like listening to anyone else talk about their work. This book, however, was different. She was writing it when I was pregnant with my second child, and the more we chatted about these characters and their pregnancy struggles and problems and stresses, the more involved I became in their lives. My own morning sickness merged with Romily's, and as my pregnant belly grew, so did hers. And so I have waited and waited for the book to finally be published, so that at last I could read this story I'd heard so much about. I expect that was rather a lot of pressure for Julie! I was a little nervous myself.
But I don't just read Julie's books because I know her - I read them because I know she writes a really great story. She has that knack with stories, where you become involved in everyone's lives and when you get to the end you feel sad that you won't get to spend any more time with your new 'friends'. I always enjoy the mixture of sadness and laughter too, and this is certainly a book that had me laughing and crying. There are some incredibly sad moments in the story. Claire's miscarriage after her final IVF implantation is heartbreaking. I've miscarried. I know. I found it deeply moving. Romily's stumbling life, as she crashes her way through motherhood and fights with her own feelings for Ben, her pregnancy hormones, her growing attachment to the baby and her new-found friendship with Claire is also both funny and heartbreaking. As is Posie, her super-intelligent daughter.
I expect that opinions will be divided over both Claire and Romily. When Julie was writing the book I felt desperately, horribly sorry for poor, poor Claire, to the point where I was begging Julie to just please write one really nice day, where everything went right, so that I could feel content in the knowledge that at least Claire had had that! Somehow, in reading the book, it balanced out for Claire. She does have some awful traumas and heartache to bear, and sometimes you wish she'd stand up for herself more. But then, slowly, she does. And, slowly, she begins to understand herself, and others, much better too. Romily is bonkers, obsessed with insects, totally disorganised and I loved her for it! Again, I had my opinions before the book was complete, about how Romily was bringing all this trouble on herself and so really she deserved whatever morning sickness she got and really, she'd get over it all. But as I read I felt terribly close to her, understanding who she was and why she was doing what she was doing and knowing it was foolish and dangerous, but still understanding why.
The letters to the baby, scattered through the book, are moving and intriguing as you wonder for a while who is writing them. I love the way the relationships ebb and flow through the book, particularly the way Claire and Romily edge closer to friendship. The fallouts are traumatic, and convincing. The birth scene was one of my favourite parts of the book. I think the only relationship I found that left me a little bit underwhelmed initially was between Claire and one of her students. It grew on me, but I felt that the first beginnings of it were too much off stage and I needed to see a bit more to care what was happening. I suppose, though, that really this was because I was mostly interested in the Ben/Romily/Claire triangle, and anything that the delightful Posie did, of course!
Anyway, you probably won't be all that surprised that I wept at the end of this story. I expect it was at least partly hormones, but I'm pretty sure a good deal of it was to do with the beautiful, beautiful story. It's incredibly moving. I felt so involved in these characters' lives that by the end it really was that old cliché of a book I couldn't put down. I read until late in the night, ignoring the fact that my own little boy would be waking me up in just a few hours. I just had to get to the end! I had to see what happened! Even after I'd finished reading I kept crying on and off, so it was an extra late night that night! I'm not, of course, going to tell you anything more about how it ends - you can go ahead and wonder like I did until you can read it for yourself to find out. Give yourself a good long stretch of time to read, lots of cupcakes, and a large box of tissues...
You can read more book reviews or buy Dear Thing by Julie Cohen at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Dear Thing by Julie Cohen at Amazon.com.
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