Two Lives by Sarah Bourne

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Two Lives by Sarah Bourne

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: A car accident causes Emma and Loretta's lives to be intertwined in surprising ways as they negotiate loss, domestic violence and motherhood. Sarah Bourne popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 206 Date: March 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781505233681

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One late afternoon in January 2012, Emma Elliot and Loretta Davidson's lives collide – along with their cars. Both are running late and driving too fast along this Surrey road. Emma is unharmed and flees the scene. Little does she know that this incident will have long-term consequences further down the line. For Loretta, the effects are more immediate. A social worker in her forties, she has taken a career break to raise her and Martin's beloved son Ethan, born after an arduous IVF cycle just over four years ago. Ethan is in critical condition after the car accident and dies during surgery. In her grief, Loretta turns to Scotch and Valium and drifts away from her husband and their families.

Meanwhile Emma has troubles of her own. In her twenties, she works in hotel management in Guildford and lives with her partner, Derek Grimes, who is a builder near Woking. A class difference and lack of common interests has always meant a certain distance between them, but sex is enough to keep them together. Unfortunately, Derek gets physical in other ways, too: Emma is a frequent visitor to the local hospital for imaginary 'falls' and 'accidents' that explain her bruises and black eyes. When Emma moves in with her parents and tries to break things off with Derek, he starts stalking her and she has to take out a restraining order against him. Things get even more complicated when she realises she is carrying his baby.

The novel intersperses these two sobering stories through alternating short chapters. The narration is in a close third-person style that gives readers a peek into both women's thoughts. At the two-thirds point of the novel, the two lives reconnect when Loretta starts part-time work at the gift shop of Emma's hotel. Despite an age difference the two women strike up a gentle friendship, discussing what's on telly and eventually more personal details. Still, even when Emma moves in with her to have the baby – and even when she works out that Emma was the one driving the other car in the accident – Loretta never reveals Ethan's death.

There's a great dynamic between these two characters: Loretta becomes a sort of second mother to Emma, almost as if she's vicariously reliving her own experience of pregnancy and motherhood. As time moves on, though, their relationship becomes more like that between Barbara and Sheba in Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller, where secrets provoke a tacit power struggle and hint at disaster to come. By withholding Loretta's interior monologue for a while, Bourne subtly prepares us for the novel's chilling ending. It turns out that grief has affected Loretta's mental health much more severely than we might have realised.

Bourne's expertise in the field of mental health care comes through clearly with Loretta. The account of domestic violence in Emma's life also seems true to reality, and the parallels and common themes between their two stories are strong. I also appreciated the moments of humour in the novel, many provided by supporting characters like Loretta's randy friend Janie. Plus there's Emma's catastrophic Skype interview with a hotel in Vietnam and the story of how she met Derek when a friend was waving her toast around and smeared Nutella all down his trousers.

Still, this can seem like meagre comic relief in a short book filled with heavy social issues. I felt Bourne needed an extra 50 or 100 pages to let the story 'breathe' a little more, rather than ricocheting between climactic scenes. For instance, Loretta and Martin go on a major hiking trip to the Himalayas as they start to put their lives back together. However, readers only get to see the preparations for and aftermath of that trip; there are no scenes actually set in Nepal. I wished we could have accompanied the Davidsons on that trip and spent a little time outside of Surrey. Derek also struck me as a slightly clichéd character, and the book loses points for poor cover design as well as frequent typos.

All the same, this is a compelling story built around two likeable main characters with convincing dialogue and experiences. The novel does what fiction does best: exploring the small moments that can change lives for good. I'd be interested in reading a sequel or another novel from Sarah Bourne.

Further reading suggestion: Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller and Alys, Always by Harriet Lane.

You can read more about Sarah Bourne here.

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Buy Two Lives by Sarah Bourne at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Two Lives by Sarah Bourne at

Bookinterviews.jpg Sarah Bourne was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.


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