I had the pleasure of welcoming Claire Handscombe as my guest here on Being Anne in April 2018, with a fascinating post about the way Unbound worked, as publication day approached for Unscripted: if you’d like to read it again, you’ll find it here. I pledged my support, and my e-copy has been on my kindle since it was published in April this year – so I was particularly delighted to be invited to join the blog tour by Sarah at Book on the Bright Side, and to have the opportunity to bring it to the top of my reading list. It’s available through Amazon for kindle and in paperback – but you might prefer to buy your paperback from UK independent bookshops, Book Depository, Waterstones or Blackwells. The e-book is also available for Kobo, through Apple Books and from Google Play.
Nobody is a bigger fan of actor Thomas Cassidy than Libby is. Nobody. That’s why she’s totally going to marry him.
She is going to write a novel, name the main character after Thom, and find a way to get it to him. Intrigued and flattered, he will read it, fall in love with her prose, write to her and ask to turn it into a movie. She will pretend to think about it for a week or so, then say, sure, but can I work on it with you? Their eyes will meet over the script, and fade to black.
It is a fail-proof plan. Except for the fact that Thom is a Hollywood star, and she is, well, not. Except for the fact that he lives in America. Except, too, for the tiny age gap. Not even twenty years! Totally overcomable.
All of the obstacles are totally overcomable. It’s all about determination.
What a lovely surprise this book was! When I started to read, I will admit I was momentarily put off by the first person present tense – apologies, but it’s never really been a personal favourite in style terms – but within a few pages I was so swept up by the story and its wonderful characters that I never noticed it again. And actually, it’s the perfect choice for this book. In fact, there was nothing about this book I didn’t like, and I really would recommend it most highly. Had you realised it was a romance? I think I maybe hadn’t. Well not entirely. And it’s such an unusual one, because the “romance” (obsession?) of the blurb turns out not to be the only one around which the story turns.
There are four main characters, and the story is told by them all in the most perfect clear voices. I absolutely adored Libby – she’s wonderfully quirky, very funny, maybe ever so slightly unhinged, but entirely real. And which of us hasn’t fixated on a celebrity, believed that the one of your dreams will lock eyes with you one day and be convinced that you’re the one they’ve been looking for all their lives, just before you walk off together into the sunset and your perfect future. Not everyone takes it quite as far as Libby though – I’ve heard many motivations for writing a novel, but her plan might just be a tad too extreme and ambitious for many. But I really liked the way it enabled the author to explore a little the mechanics of writing too – after reflections on the overwhelming importance of the apostrophe, she has to come up with the initial idea, develop the story, find an agent. But then maybe she already knows the perfect agent, however reluctant he might be. And then there’s that idea of the screenplay she and Thom really need to produce together – what happens around that forms much of the meat of the story, and it’s very cleverly done and quite superbly handled.
Thom, of course, isn’t the perfect man of Libby’s dreams. He’s just a man, an actor who’s had the good luck to find the perfect role in tv series The Classroom, where his words of quiet wisdom and insight have won him so many fans and followers. He’s a genuinely nice guy, but flawed like everyone else. And his relationships certainly haven’t gone too well – Ebba, perhaps the love of his life, walked away for another, and his subsequent marriage has foundered. And maybe he’s just a little lonely too.
Ebba’s life really hasn’t been too perfect either. Her new relationship had more than a few issues – and she’s written her memoirs, baring all, eagerly devoured by both Libby and Thom. And then she meets Thom again, her life is turned a little upside-down all over again.
And then there’s Dan – that agent I mentioned, and Libby’s long-time friend who’s always yearned to be rather more. The story travels back at times to their university days at King’s, when his unrequited love really makes you ache – and even in the present day, when the university “friends” gather together over warm prosecco, everyone can see how Dan felt and still feels, except for the single-minded Libby.
And I think I might now have told more than enough of the story, and instead let you discover it for yourself – but I absolutely loved the way it developed, and the extraordinary emotional intensity with which the whole story was told. There’s depth to all four characters, and the author’s really original approach (yes, including that first person present tense!) takes you deeply inside their thoughts and feelings. But she also frequently manages to make the whole book light, funny, with an edge of the slightly ridiculous at times (particularly when Libby’s obsession comes into play). There’s a lovely pull and push between the potency of dreams and harsh reality – how wanting something isn’t always enough, how life is something that happens and can’t be planned for. And if and when your hopes turn to dust… well, there might just still be hope for the future.
This book wasn’t at all what I expected it to be – but isn’t that’s rather nice sometimes? Excellent writing, a great story, characters you’ll take to your heart as I did… and highly recommended by me.
About the author
Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA, but actually, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She was recently longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, and her journalism, poetry, and essays have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Bustle, Book Riot, Writing Magazine, and the Washington Post. She works as a bookseller at East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill and is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a fortnightly show of news and views from British books and publishing.