6 August 2008

Book Review: The Love Of My Life by Louise Douglas

"‘I miss him with every breath and heartbeat. He should have been my happy ending. Instead, he is the sad beginning to my story.’ Olivia and Luca Felicone had known each other nearly all their lives, but when they fell in love as teenagers and eloped to London, they broke the hearts of those closest to them. Luca’s parents run Marinella’s restaurant, the colourful hub of life in the otherwise bleak north-eastern seaside town of Watersford, and his mother, Angela, has never forgiven Olivia for causing such a rift in her beloved family. On a freezing January night Olivia’s life is shattered when she learns that Luca has been killed in a car accident on the M1. She is left with nothing, and after suffering from weeks of overwhelming grief, she abandons her job and returns North to where Luca has been buried in Watersford, just to be close to him – even though she knows she will not be welcome at Marinella’s. Olivia’s chance meeting with Luca’s married twin brother, Marc, leads to the realization that he is experiencing a loss almost as painful as her own. Their desolation draws them into an affair which both know has no future, but fills the space where Luca should be. It is a course of action that can only spiral out of control, and when it does, the consequences are both explosive and cruel."

When I read the plot of the book, I thought it sounded very interesting, and I was intrigued to see how the author was going to tackle the issue of a widow having a relationship with her brother-in-law, and also in trying not to make the lead character of Olivia hateable because of it. Amazingly, Douglas has succeeded in making the story believable and yet allowing you to still like Olivia, and understand why she is continuing in her actions. Olivia is a very likeable character, and because of the way the story is written, you do feel very sorry for her, and almos develop feelings of hatred towards the Felicone family for their treatment of Olivia.

The thing that made this book unique for me was the way in which the author has chosen to approach the story. The book starts in the present day, Olivia telling us her husband has died and it begins around the day of Luca's funeral. But after this, the book goes into Olivia's past, beginning with her as a small child and developing with Olivia as she grows into a teenage girl, living a life with boys, love, sex and the Felicone twins. Douglas has chosen to write both the past and present together in the book, with alternating chapters making the book easy to read. One chapter is set in the present, and immediately following that is another chapter on the past, somewhat explaining things mentioned in the previous chapter or earlier in the book.

It is the use of this style of writing which keeps the mystery element of the story alive. From the start, it is obvious that the Felicone family don't like Olivia, particularly Marc's wife Nathalie, but we have no idea why this is. Throughout the book, I was shocked at the family's treatment of Olivia, and the book was fairly slow in revealing the truth and why things were so bad between the two groups. I did get a bit annoyed at having to wait for the vast majority of the book to be read before we found out the truth about why things are so bad, but it does add something to the story, a real mystery and certainly makes you want to keep reading on.

The characters are cleverly used in the book. Olivia is he narrator of the book, telling us the story in the first person. She is likeable and you really feel for her after the loss of her husband. The Felicone family make up the bulk of the other cast members. Luca's mother and father, Angela and Maurizio are Italians, and work hard, but Angela clearly has a problem with her daughter-in-law although we don't know why. There are 3 other brothers; Stefano, Carlo and Fabio who we don't really meet other than briefly at Luca's funeral, Marc's wife Nathalie, a horrible woman who I hated throughout the book and had no sympathy for at all, and of course Marc himself. I wanted to dislike him for taking advantage of a grieving widow but I just couldn't. The writer has made him a sympathetic character and this is why the relationship between he and Olivia works so well, you completely understand why it is happening and the feelings behind it. As well as the Felicone's, we also briefly meet Olivia's sister Lynette and her awful mother, a character I couldn't stand but was well written.

Considering this is a debut novel, I absolutely loved it. Although the blurb of the book proclaims that the book is about the affair between Olivia and her brother-in-law Marc, I felt this wasn't the total plot. With the story being told in alternate chapters and different points in Olivia's life, we are led through many different stories, feelings, emotions and stages of Olivia's life. We learn about her friendship with the Felicone twins growing up, how it changed, and how things turned out so awfully between the couple and the family. The author has really grasped all human relationships and emotions in this book, keeping you guessing about things all the way. It was a joy to read, and I just couldn't put it down. I was desperate to find out what had happened between Olivia and the Felicone's, and the story which led up to this was so detailed and well told, you felt like you were right in the middle of it with Olivia. An amazing debut, and one I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone. Superb.

Rating: 5/5

You can buy The Love Of My Life in paperback and as an eBook now.

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