WHERE do you begin to explain the success of Adele Parks’ amazing and imaginative new novel?
It might sound strange but the best place to start is at the end because this perfect summer read has a twist in its tail which is the last word in storytelling surprises.
In fact, the book comes with a special plea from the publishers to keep the memorable ending a secret, and that in itself makes The State We’re In an intriguing and irresistible package.
So what’s it all about, without giving the game away of course? The basis of this powerful and emotion-packed tale is an ill-assorted couple, a sort of contemporary Romeo and Juliet whose star-crossed attraction might – or might not – buck the trend.
It’s also a tale of two generations of two families discovering that the past can catch up in the most unexpected ways, and their fickle fates will hold you in thrall until that much-anticipated last page has turned.
Parks, the mastermind behind all this romantic magic, is something of a publishing phenomenon having produced 12 novels in 12 years, all bestsellers, but here she raises the bar to a new level in what promises to be one of the must-reads of 2013.
Love and loss, past and present, old and new, funny and sad create an enchanting mix in a story that puts family life and duty and our intrinsic need to be loved under an unforgiving and unforgettable lens.
But to return to the beginning, meet Jo Russell and Dean Taylor. Jo, a single, eternal optimist on the trail of that elusive thing they call ‘true love,’ is about to sit next to corporate high-flyer Dean, a resolute cynic who runs a mile from commitment, on a flight to Chicago.
Parked in seats next to each other as the plane leaves London, the two opposites are surely destined to find little to talk about… but fate has something very different in store.
Jo is at a crossroads in her life. She has just been sacked from her job on a bridal magazine and has decided that her only chance of happiness is to head out to Chicago, break up the imminent wedding of her ex-fiancé Martin and claim him as her own.
If it sounds desperate, that’s because Jo is desperate. She’s grown up with her parents’ ‘gold standard’ marriage and is chasing the same idyllic love match for herself.
Meanwhile, Dean, who lives in Chicago, has just been to visit his estranged and dying father Eddie in a London hospital. Eddie was a serial philanderer and womaniser who walked out of the family home when Dean and his sister were little more than babies, leaving his fragile mother to cope alone.
The cruel experiences of his childhood have come flooding back and he’s in no mood for talking but life is full of surprises. In the time it takes to fly from London to Chicago, each finds something in the other that they didn’t even realise they needed.
But the past is catching up and their true journey is only just beginning…
There is so much to admire in Parks’ clever, compelling story … her insight into the complexity of relationships, her grasp of how we cope with the challenges that life presents and the real warmth and affection that imbues her storytelling.
But surely the last word should go to THAT ending… don’t miss it!
(Headline Review, paperback, £11.99)