Review: This Last Kiss by Madeleine Reiss

By | July 6, 2016

As original as One Day and as heartbreaking as Me Before You, This Last Kiss is the perfect emotional and romantic read.

Rora Raine is finally coming home to Hastings, twelve years after she left her grief-stricken father, and fled the love of her life, Carl.

Struggling to support her bright but troubled daughter, Rora has convinced herself she’ll never love again.

When she meets a bumblingly charming stranger, Rora’s heart begins to thaw. 

But, try as she might, she can’t run from true love forever. 

Funny, warm-hearted and soaringly romantic, This Last Kiss is the redemptive story of two star-crossed lovers, told through each and every kiss they share.

Back in November 2013, I was totally blown away by Madeleine Reiss’s first novel, Someone To Watch Over Me. You’ll find my review here, and you might remember that the book won a competition with over 1000 entrants run by The Alan Titchmarsh Show to find a new novelist, competing for a deal with Harper Collins. And it was absolutely wonderful. 

And I’d quite forgotten about the author until she approached me a few weeks ago to tell me she had a new book about to come out – This Last Kiss was published by Bonnier Zaffre on 30th June, available in paperback and for kindle. 

When I wrote about the author’s first book, I said that it defied categorisation. I’d say exactly the same about this one – but for entirely different reasons. This isn’t a psychological thriller, or a light women’s read – there’s no hint of the supernatural. But what the books do have in common is the immensely accomplished writing – that ability to make you experience it with all your senses, to feel it so deeply that you ache inside, to wrench you out of your day-to-day existence and entirely into the world inhabited by the characters.

All the characters are flawed and damaged in some way, and the way the story is constructed is extremely clever and highly original. It’s told in two time frames – Rora and Carl’s intense friendship from childhood years into young adulthood, and the period following Rora’s reluctant return to Hastings to visit her dying father. Each chapter centres on a kiss – each kiss part of a significant event – leading through to the heartbreaking last kiss of the book’s title. 

Every relationship in this book is quite fascinating. While Rora and Carl’s relationship – balancing each other in their highs and lows, each a refuge and strength to the other as they become adults – is the focus for the story, the relationship between Rora’s parents is captivating too. And there are lots of side stories that add to the depth of the story and its characters – the grandmother’s own book of kisses, Rora’s mother’s struggles with her demons, and Carl’s abandonment. 

The present day story is enthralling too. Many things happened to make Rora leave her Hastings childhood home, and there have been events and issues in the intervening years that have changed lives forever. On her return, Rora has a child – an intelligent and accomplished one, with issues and demons of her own – and a number of relationships in need of repair. The full story is very slowly revealed, a small glimpse at a time – this is really clever writing, as the whole picture becomes slowly coloured in. 

There is a conventional love story in here – a three way one, with choices to be made – and one I really enjoyed. I very much liked Krystof – another vulnerable and damaged character, awkward and beautifully described – who finds himself caught up in the larger story as it works itself through.

There’s a lovely light humour too – mentioned because I don’t want to give the impression that the book is unremittingly serious and earnest. It most certainly isn’t – there’s a good balance of light and dark, and Rora’s early encounters with Krystof are a particular joy.

And I can’t conclude without mentioning the book’s setting. I’ve never been to Hastings – but having read this book I really feel I have. It’s described in the most vivid detail, and almost becomes an additional character. Rora’s father is writing a book on its history, from which we glean some of that detail: Rora despises every inch of it, but her life is shaped by parts of its geography like the cliffs, the beach, the huts and the pier.

This is one of those wonderful “quiet” books that seems to have slipped out into the world without fuss or fanfare. I’m so glad I found it – I recommend it most highly.

My thanks to netgalley, publishers Bonnier Zaffre and the author for my advance reading e-copy.

Madeleine Reiss was born in Athens. She worked for some years in an agency for street performers and comedians and then as a journalist and publicist. She has two sons, and lives in Cambridge with her husband and younger son.

Follow Madeleine on Twitter or through her Facebook author page.