Review: A Life Without You by Katie Marsh

By | July 27, 2016

Can you ever outrun the past?

It’s Zoe’s wedding day. She’s about to marry Jamie, the love of her life. Then a phone call comes out of the blue, with the news that her mum Gina has been arrested. Zoe must make an impossible decision: should she leave her own wedding to help?

Zoe hasn’t seen Gina for years, blaming her for the secret that she’s been running from ever since she was sixteen. Now, Gina is back in her life, but she’s very different to the mum Zoe remembers. Slowly but surely, Gina is losing her memory.

As she struggles to cope with Gina’s illness, can Zoe face up to the terrible events of years ago and find her way back to the people she loves?

A Life Without You is a stirring and poignant novel about the power of the past – and the possibilities of the future.

I always thought I’d like Katie Marsh’s writing. I have no idea why, but I never quite got round to reading My Everything – but I certainly couldn’t miss the fantastic reviews. And when I saw that A Life Without You was to be published – first for kindle in June, and then in paperback from Hodder on 14th July – I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again. 

And my goodness, it was wonderful – and although being a soggy and sobbing mess at the end of it might not be everyone’s idea of a “wonderful read”, it’s most certainly mine. Strangely though, the first chapter almost put me off (I mention this only in case it does the same to you…) with the last minute preparations for Zoe’s wedding, and her “will I/won’t I”. But the book then becomes something different altogether. Enter Gina, Zoe’s mother – a mother she hasn’t seen in a long time, but whose phone call is enough to force her to make some very difficult choices.

There was so much I loved about this book that I hardly know where to start. As an account of Gina’s decline – with all the challenges and problems that brings – it’s quite superbly handled. And it’s not mawkish or morbid, just exceptionally moving. At times it can be very funny, as Gina’s behaviour becomes increasingly extreme – but then you catch yourself laughing, and it often turns into a sob instead. The deep, dark secrets that underlie the fractured relationship between mother and daughter slowly unfold, and it’s really quite a story. The clear love of a mother for her daughter – and, despite everything, the love of a daughter for her mother – makes you feel warm inside, but also absolutely breaks your heart. 

I loved the structure of the book too. Letters from mother to daughter, sent on successive birthdays, tell the story of their relationship and the perceived betrayal that fractured it. The letters are in a clear voice, with real humour in the early ones, but with a devastating sadness pervading the later ones – and they add extra poignancy to the continuing decline we’re watching in the present day story. They also tell a fascinating story of families and how the complex relationships can work but can also break down – and it’s simply fascinating too to see how those family dynamics are working in the present day. And in the background, there’s always the story of Zoe’s relationship with the simply lovely Jamie – and the fading hope that they can recover the love they had.  

This book was desperately sad, but at the same time totally beautiful and uplifting. One that everyone should read, I think… I defy anyone not to love it as much as I did. 

My thanks to Hodder for my proof copy and the finished paperback: for good measure, I  also bought it for kindle, because that’s the way I rather prefer to read…

Katie lives in south-west London with her family. Before being published she worked in healthcare, and her novels are inspired by the bravery of the people she met in hospitals and clinics across the country. Her first novel My Everything was picked by the Evening Standard as one of the hottest summer debuts of 2015. A Life Without You is her second novel.

She loves strong coffee, the feel of a blank page and stealing her husband’s toast. When not writing, she spends her time in local parks trying and failing to keep up with her daughter’s scooter. 

You can contact Katie on Twitter or Facebook, or via her website.

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