2 February 2012
Book Review: The Angel at No. 33 by Polly Williams
Sophie cannot leave the people she loves. Her husband, Ollie - a man who once watered a houseplant for a year before realising it was plastic - is lost without her. Their son Freddie is so little. And her friend Jenny? There's something she desperately needs to know before it's too late.
Some love stories never end.
I am a real Polly Williams fan, I've read each of her books and loved all of them. Williams has a knack of writing real women's fiction, stories that women can really relate to and I think that's what draws me to them each time. Her sixth and latest book, The Angel at No. 33 has a gorgeous cover, turquoise and white which is quite eye-catching, but it's the inside which intrigued me most of all. Williams has chosen to abandon her very realistic stories, and write this from the point of view of a dead woman, Sophie. I was a little worried that it'd turn into something Cecelia Ahern-esque and have a magical element which I'm not keen on, but this book was compassionate, moving, emotional and beautifully written, and had me captivated at every page.
Sophie is pretty happy with her life. She's happily married to gorgeous husband Ollie, is mum to young son Freddie and has the best friend in the world in Jenny. However, when she's knocked over by a bus and killed, she wakes up staring at herself lying in the road, and then ends up following her family and friends as they adjust to life with Sophie, and watches events unfold in a way none of us would ever be privvy to. Ollie starts to fall apart, unsure of what to do with life without his wife, Freddie is missing his mum terribly, and Jenny is not only missing her friend, but struggling in her own relationship too. Sophie, however, can't commute with her nearest and dearest, and instead has to watch them muddle through as best they can. As I said, I was worried this plot really wouldn't work, but it more than did - it was a beautifully written and enjoyable, although at times upsetting tale.
As a mum, my worst nightmare is exactly what happened to Sophie, and leaving my little boy behind. Williams manages to perfectly capture Sophie's helplessness and desperation at leaving her young family, her feelings of loss and heartache are worded so that it hits you hard, and I found the scenes of her watching her son Freddie quite upsetting to read, imagining myself in Sophie's position all too often. As well as writing the pain from Sophie's point of view, Williams manages to convey the sorrow widower Ollie is feeling, how he struggles with the simplest tasks like cleaning the house to his emotional pain at losing his wife, Jenny's guilt and pain over Sophie's death, and how she has to deal with those Sophie left behind and the worry over the cracks in her own relationship. Each character is carved out perfectly, created to be a real person with real emotions and feelings that are portrayed perfectly by Williams.
Although it's a very emotional read, there are some funny moments as well, and those stop the book from becoming too maudlin and downbeat. Sophie makes some funny observations from her viewpoint of hovering over everyone, and a few things that happen along do have you smiling and giggling, even though you think you perhaps shouldn't be! They really lighten the mood, and are very necessary for the book. I have to say all of Sophie's "mum friends" are great characters too, and I like the way that they reveal a different side to Sophie's life that Jenny doesn't know about, and through getting to know each other, they all find out something new about their mutual friend, and it goes to show how we show different people different sides of ourselves as to how we want people to perceive us, and in that respect it's very on the money. It also shows how differently people deal with death, and I felt Williams covered this really well in the book.
Overall, I feel this book is incredibly well written and deals with a very emotive topic with sensitivity, compassion and heart. There were realistic characters in Ollie, Jenny and Freddie, and they each represent how we as humans are deeply affected by the sudden death of our loved ones. The inclusions of Sophie as a spirit type figure is intriguing but actually works really well, and provides (oddly) a little light relief to stop the story from being too bogged down in sadness. I loved every page, and enjoyed that there was plenty going on with stories about Ollie, Jenny and the dealing with Sophie's passing as well. If you've recently lost a loved one, this book might be a bit close to the bone for you, but even if you haven't, it's an emotive read that'll have you crying and laughing alongside each other. Really well written and incredibly enjoyable, this is one to definitely add to your list!
You can buy The Angel at No. 33 in both paperback and as an eBook now.