It’s a real pleasure – and a bit of an honour too – to be launching the blog tour today for Only Human by Diane Chandler, and sharing my review: this wonderful book will be published by Blackbird Books on 8th September, both as an ebook and in paperback. And there’s good news – there’s a special price of 99p for the ebook while on preorder through Amazon for your kindle, and also via Apple and Kobo. If you’re more of a paperback reader, there’s more good news – it’ll be stocked in Waterstones’ London stores (and isn’t that a cover that’ll look good on the shelf?), or you can always order in the usual way.
It’s not something I often do, but I would like to tell you a little bit about the publishers, Blackbird Books. They’re an #authorpower publisher, publishing in both traditional print run paperback and digital – and proud to declare that they nurture a select stable of brilliant discoveries. I just took a look back at the last two of their books that I read and reviewed – Bluethroat Morning by Jacqui Lofthouse and The Lonely Hearts Crime Club by Tanya Bullock (links are to my reviews), both included in my Books of the Year lists, and you only need to take a look at the reviews to see why I rate them so highly. Their books are exciting and different, and they support their authors with an absolute passion – and I really must add that they’re particularly supportive of the bloggers who appreciate them too.
I haven’t read anything by Diane Chandler before – the timing wasn’t right (mine, not theirs) for me to read either her debut The Road to Donetsk (which won the 2016 People’s Book Prize for Fiction) or Moondance later that year. I really didn’t want to miss another book from her – and I don’t think I’ve ever been so pleased to find that I was able to read and review this time. My thanks to Blackbird for my advance reading ecopy, provided via netgalley. Oh my goodness, this book was just… well, I couldn’t resist taking to Twitter to tell everyone how much I loved it, and look, they turned me into a poster…
Let’s take a closer look…
Every betrayal has a consequence… one family… one summer… one woman
The Bonds are, seemingly, a tight family unit, until one fateful summer when the temptations of lust and love come for them all.
Tiger mum Anna, who gave up her career to build the perfect home life in London’s leafy Chiswick, is shocked to the core when she discovers that her husband of 20 years is having an affair.
Her daughter meanwhile is transforming into a tricky teen chopping at the apron strings.
Then Jack walks into their lives. Sophie’s first boyfriend is a breath of fresh air for the whole family, and Anna gradually discovers new purpose for herself.
But when more deceit creeps in, tensions soar, and Anna is propelled through a tangled web of secrets and lies towards a devastating climax.
This tale of love & betrayal, longlisted for The Guardian Not The Booker Prize 2020, is the perfect novel for you if you enjoy intelligent, elegantly-written, novels by authors like Jodi Picoult and Louise Doughty.
Do you know, there are those times when I’m ever so tempted not to write a review at all – sometimes all I want to say is “read it – you’ll love it as much as I did”, and leave it at that. But that wouldn’t do at all for the first stop on a blog tour, would it?
This book occupies that elusive middle ground between literary fiction and the best of popular fiction, compulsively readable but quite beautifully written. Anna’s voice is always clear and distinctive – it might be that she’s a slightly unreliable narrator at times, but it really wasn’t difficult to identify with her and her search for direction and purpose. Her life has revolved entirely around her family for a long time – feckless husband Ollie (who’s really gone too far this time) and daughter Sophie who’s growing up fast and slipping away from her protection and control. Although I’m neither a wife nor a mother, it was quite impossible not to identify with her feeling of lost youth and opportunity, that need to feel attractive and desired, to get a grip on things, to feel wanted. Might some of her actions have been prompted by a thirst for revenge too? Yes, I think they probably were.
I really want to take you through the twists and turns of the story – all those decisions made by Anna, many of which you’ll empathise with, but at other times might be well beyond the behaviour you’d expect. I won’t – but in a story that’s essentially Anna’s, I think it’s fair to say that much of the book’s focus is on men and their impacts. Husband Ollie behaves very badly, but – as men sometimes do – thinks contrition and promises mean that life will resume its former comfortable pattern. Jack, daughter Sophie’s rather exciting new boyfriend, provides a rather nice diversion, easing the tensions for a while when he’s welcomed into the family – I did rather expect the story to go in one direction, but it then it confounded me by going in entirely another. Then there’s Gabby – perhaps one of Anna’s less wise choices, their encounters glorious and a little seedy by turns, so very well handled by the author.
And then there’s Fred – an elderly man “adopted” by Anna as part of her search for purpose and direction, and a storyline that lifted this book for me from “loved it” to “it blew me away”. As a portrait of the descent into vascular dementia, I thought the writing was quite exceptional. It was all in the “moments” – the first signs while doing the crossword, the increasing forgetfulness and focus, the dead-heading of the roses with pliers rather than secateurs. The later stages of their relationship were searingly real – the absence of recognition, the brief moments of lucidity, the asking about his mother – and deeply moving. And through it all we have our own niggling questions around Anna’s motivation – that possibility that she might be caring for him to fulfil her own needs.
I really must mention that the whole book isn’t downbeat in any way – well, unless the story really demands it. There are many times when it’s exceptionally funny – returning items at M&S has never had me in tears of laughter before – and there are plenty of lighter moments. The author’s characters are never less than real people – and they simply behave as real people do.
And although I’ll say no more about it, I absolutely loved the book’s ending – if you’ve questioned Anna’s actions at other parts of the book, it presents perhaps the biggest question of them all, both dark and delicious.
Absolutely without question, this was one of my books of this year – I really hope it will bring Diane Chandler’s wonderful writing the attention and acclaim it so thoroughly deserves.
And just in case you’d like to try it for yourself before clicking the “buy” button, you can read Chapter One here – my thanks to Blackbird Books for the link.
About the author
Diane Chandler worked first as a political lobbyist in Brussels, and then at the European Commission for several years, where she managed overseas aid programmes in Ukraine just after the fall of communism. Ukraine soon worked its way into her heart, and she travelled there extensively. Back in London, when Diane married and her daughter was born, she was able to pursue her passion for writing in those few hours she could snatch. Ukraine became the subject for her first novel The Road To Donetsk, which won The People’s Book Prize for Fiction 2016. Her second novel, Moondance, about a high-flying career woman battling with gruelling fertility treatment, was informed by her personal experience of the emotional and physical impact of IVF. Her third novel, Only Human, about a seemingly tight family unit until the temptations of lust and love come for them all, is out on September 8th 2020. Diane hosts the Chiswick Buzz TV Book Club, Words With Wine in W4.