It’s a real pleasure today to share my review of In Honour Bound by Christine Webber – her first novel, extensively revised, and republished on 6th November 2018, with a rather perfect new cover. Available as an e-book, paperback and also as an audio book (narrated by the author): my thanks to Christine for providing my e-copy for review. I so enjoyed It’s Who We Are when I read it last year – you’ll find my review here, and the book went on to feature in my 2018 Books of the Year list. This is a very different book – but I really loved Christine’s writing, so I was very much looking forward to giving it a try.
Set in 1980’s London, Helen Bartlett, a popular TV news presenter and Sam Aziz, a glamorous middle-eastern cardiac surgeon, meet on a live programme. They dislike each other on sight, and the interview is a disaster. But that is not the end of their story because later that evening, they find themselves at the same dinner party.
Over the weeks, hostility morphs into passion, and soon they fall desperately in love.
Both are looking for the right partner with whom to settle down and produce a family. They seem made for each other; they delight in the joy that they have found, and plan to marry. But then, the differences in their cultural backgrounds start to manifest themselves. And a debt of honour that Sam cannot ignore returns to haunt him.
Struggling with their torment, while she is so much in the public eye and he is performing life-saving surgery on a daily basis, places them under intolerable strain.
Must they relinquish the most magical relationship either of them has ever known? Can they find a way out of their dilemmas? Or do they have to accept that no matter how modern we are, we cannot fly in the face of the traditions that served, and shaped us, for centuries?
There was so much about this book that I really enjoyed. The 1980s setting took me right back – I started work in the mid-70s, so Helen and I would have been of a similar age – but thankfully I didn’t have to live my life in the public eye as she did as a TV news presenter. The small details were excellent – how on earth did we survive smoky workplaces and the agonies of not being constantly in touch? And yes, I do remember having an answerphone, complete with micro-cassette where messages exceeded its capacity. I loved the backdrop to the story too – Helen’s TV work, the succession of increasingly extreme features, sometimes risking life and limb to provide a short slot in the name of entertainment. But the core and beating heart of this story is the all-consuming love affair between Helen and Sam – their initial animosity transforming into a passion so great that its sheer emotional rawness makes you ache within.
I’ll admit I did struggle a little to identify – emphatically not the author’s fault as every moment of their affair has absolute authenticity of feeling, but I really don’t think I’ve ever experienced such heady heights, desperate depths or such a degree of obsession. Nevertheless, I was entirely caught up by it all, immersed in the twists and turns of their relationship, with a real physical ache as it became apparent that a glorious happy ending might just not be going to happen. The cultural differences and their impact were extremely well handled – that conflict between the “modern” and the pull and obligation of tradition, the westernisation that’s never deeper than life’s surface, the contrast between Helen’s privileged life and the realities of life under a different system of values and expectations.
The emotional intensity of the story is quite exceptional, the writing thoroughly excellent, and it’s a story you feel rather than simply read – although there are many significant moments of lightness and well-judged humour, particularly centred on the TV escapades. I found the whole read quite an experience, and one I very much enjoyed – recommended to anyone who might enjoy a character driven story with real emotional depth.
About the author
After a break of 29 years to write over a dozen non-fiction titles, Christine Webber returned to writing fiction in 2016. The result was a novel called Who’d Have Thought It? which is a romantic comedy about the change and challenges we encounter in mid-life.
Who’d Have Thought It? is also available as an audio book – both in digital and CD format.
Her subsequent novel, It’s Who We Are, further explores the theme of the turbulence of mid-life. But it is also about the importance of friendships, particularly as we get older, and concerns the secrets in families that can force us to look at our own identities.
In Honour Bound is a different book altogether. Set in the mid-’80s, it is a story of passion between two people who come from completely different backgrounds – and how the pull of the past can threaten the present.
Christine is a former singer, TV presenter, agony aunt, columnist and Harley Street psychotherapist.
Nowadays she is focusing on fiction – though she still broadcasts regularly.