I first discovered the wonderful writing of Madeleine Reiss in 2013 following her success in a novel writing competition with the Alan Titchmarsh TV show. Someone To Watch Over Me was just wonderful, an immensely accomplished first novel (you’ll find my review here) – and I also thoroughly enjoyed her second, This Last Kiss (review here). Now firmly on my favourite authors list, I was delighted to see that Madeleine’s third novel Before We Say Goodbye was to be released today, 22nd February, by publishers Zaffre, and is now available in paperback and for kindle: my thanks to Zaffre and netgalley for my advance reading e-copy. And I’m even more delighted to report that, my goodness, she’s (more than) done it again… this book was just stunning, and I might just have another early addition to my books of the year list.
Scott Hudson’s mother, Josie, has dedicated her whole life to looking after him. When his heart failed, aged seven, her world came crashing down.
Now, at nineteen, Scott is ill again, with little chance of another transplant he’s worried his time is running out. He knows the news will devastate his mother once more.
He owes her everything, so Scott decides to find someone to be there for Josie, if he can no longer be.
Blissfully unaware of ‘Project Boyfriend’, Josie is startled when Scott sets her up on a series of blind dates. Unable to deny her son anything, she awkwardly finds herself back in the dating game . . . and enjoying it more than she ever imagined.
This book will, I absolutely guarantee, break your heart – I read the entire second half with an uncomfortable lump in my throat, and often had to wipe away tears so that I could carry on reading. These people were so very real – the mother putting her own life and needs on hold to love and care for her son, the son facing the end of his young life while trying to find her some happiness and a reason for living once he’s no longer there. The mother/son relationship is perfectly drawn with all its joy, pain and those ordinary moments of day-to-day living: the inevitability of the loss of her child absolutely tears you apart.
But if you’re expecting a rather depressing wallow, you’re looking at the wrong book – Scott’s efforts to find a partner for mother Josie are wonderfully entertaining, joyous and very funny as he selects apparently “suitable” blind dates from the many applicants and she meets a succession of distinctly less than suitable potential partners. The characterisation in this book is absolutely exceptional – in addition to that wonderful relationship between mother and son, the whole cast of characters is enchanting. I particularly loved neighbour Freya, who might be in the grip of dementia and inclined to answer the door wearing only jumper and slippers, eating little but cottage pies and chunky Kitkats, but who has the most wonderful moments of exceptional lucidity. Even the more minor characters are drawn in exquisite detail – Josie’s boss George at the bed showroom where she works, the lovely Picasso (not his real name, there’s a story there) with the unsuitable girlfriend and huge capacity for love. And as for Emily – oh, you’re just going to love her…
This book is full of the most wonderful images and moments. Some will have you in stitches, just perfect gentle observational humour, scenes from everyday life that fill you with joy and make your heart sing. I loved the inclusion of some of the emails from the potential suitors, some really funny, others distinctly weird, and other providing tantalising glimpses of other people’s lives. But there are other moments that are almost unbearably sad, but flawlessly handled – the joy found in holding a melting snowball was the point when my heart finally broke apart.
The Northumberland setting was perfectly drawn – Alnwick, the fossil searching on the beaches, the visits to Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands, the secret beach, the castle, even a visit to Barter Books – and the passage of time and the decline in Scott’s health is tracked with beautifully written descriptions of the changing face of nature as the seasons continue their relentless progression. And then there’s the wonderful story of the dolphin, and the way its future draws the threads of the story together and helps provide the most uplifting and gorgeous ending.
There was nothing – absolutely nothing – about this book that I didn’t love. I do hope others will discover it too… and love it every bit as much as I did.
About the author
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 currently works part-time at a brain injury charity and writes novels for the rest of the week. She has two sons and one grandson and lives in Cambridge with her husband and an extremely paranoid cat called Ruby.
She wrote her first novel at the age of fifty after her mother badgered her to enter a book writing competition that was being advertised on The Alan Titchmarsh Show. In order to stop her mother phoning her up and asking if she had done anything about it yet, she sent off three chapters of a book she had started and abandoned a few years before. To her amazement she won the competition and a publishing contract with Harper Collins. Joy was quickly followed by anxiety since she knew she then had to actually write the book.
This book was Someone To Watch Over Me. Since then she has written two more – This Last Kiss and Before We Say Goodbye.