A tad later than I’d originally planned, but I’m really delighted today to share my review of The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness, the debut novel from Laura Bambrey: published by Simon & Schuster UK on 28 July 2020, it’s now available for kindle and on all major e-book platforms. My thanks to the publishers for providing my reading copy via netgalley.
I don’t know Laura well, but our paths have certainly crossed over the years through our blogging and our shared love of books – and I must say that it was wonderful to see her publishers calling her “an exciting new voice in women’s fiction”. Having read this book, I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that. They’re also calling this book “the most refreshing, feel-good story of the summer” – and, do you know, I don’t think I’d argue with that either.
Tori Williamson is alone. After a tragic event left her isolated from her loved ones, she’s been struggling to find her way back to, well – herself. That’s why she set up her blog, The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness, as a way of – anonymously – connecting with the outside world and reaching others who just need a little help sometimes.
When she’s offered a free spot on a wellbeing retreat in exchange for a review on her blog, Tori is anxious about opening herself up to new surroundings. But after her three closest friends – who she talks to online but has never actually met – convince her it’ll do her some good, she reluctantly agrees and heads off for three weeks in the wild (well, a farm in Wales).
From the moment she arrives, Tori is sceptical and quickly finds herself drawn to fellow sceptic Than, the retreat’s dark and mysterious latecomer. But as the beauty of The Farm slowly comes to light she realizes that opening herself up might not be the worst thing. And sharing a yurt with fellow retreater Bay definitely isn’t. Will the retreat be able to fix Tori? Or will she finally learn that being lonely doesn’t mean she’s broken . . .
Welcome to The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness! Where you can learn to move mountains by picking up the smallest of stones…
I read a vast number of books, and most of them fall into the broad categories of romance or women’s fiction: I enjoy almost every single one, and if I don’t I neither finish reading nor write a review. Sometimes though, it can be quite difficult for a book to really stand out, to stick in the memory, to be sufficiently different that it makes me excited – but this was a book that most certainly did.
It didn’t grab me from the very beginning though. First there’s a blog post – it’s the second anniversary of The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness, and the post tells us a little about it, the idea that you don’t have to be broken to be lonely, and the support the blog provides. Then we move into a chat group conversation – it sets up the story really well, but I’ll readily admit it’s not a format I particularly enjoy (I am getting on a bit, after all…) and I did skip through it a little.
But then, things settle – in her clear voice, Tori tells us about that chat group and what it means to her (the Warriors are her closest – her only – friends): and she decides to follow their advice and head off for a three-week stay at The Farm. It’s a retreat in rural Wales that focuses on healing, mindfulness, relationships, grief – a beautiful setting, a unique experience, but also a daunting one for someone so damaged.
I now have an almost irresistible urge to continue by telling you every twist and turn of what happens next – but I’m not going to. I’m sure you can guess that Tori finds herself in the company of a really diverse group of people, all there for their own reasons and with different goals and expectations, and the relationships between them begin to play out. They all have issues of one kind or another, gradually revealed or uncovered, as friendships are formed and individuals find themselves – and I loved every single moment.
The characterisation is quite exceptional – Tori herself is complex enough, and I found her both sympathetic and easy to identify with in so many ways. No-one is quite what they seem – and it’s fascinating to watch each of them reveal themselves. Each chapter starts with an extract from The Beginner’s Guide, focused on loneliness and friendship and healing – don’t skip over them, whatever you do, because some of them really hit you in the gut and are immensely powerful.
Now, I’m not really managing to convey why I enjoyed this book so much, am I – so let me try again. It might surprise you to find that the book, at times, is extremely funny: the author has a wonderful eye for the ridiculous (often present in such an environment!) and the humour is just so perfectly done. But there’s an edge of danger too, that threatens and builds – there are twists and shocks and surprises that make the whole book a compelling read. And it’s a romance – one of those romances that grows and builds, grounded in friendship, and becomes everything I wanted it to be. And not “just” romance – the whole book really overflows with love, as individuals support each other and gradually unfurl.
I found this book quite stunning – it attempts a lot, and fails at nothing. The writing is so very confident, the ideas behind the story are ambitious but perfectly delivered, and the whole book is unlike anything I’ve read before: it raises serious questions and confronts real issues, but also manages to be a thoroughly heartwarming and entertaining read. It made me laugh (a lot), at times it made me hurt and cry, and some parts filled me with anger: it made me feel, and think about things, and at the end I was a soggy mess (but with a big smile on my face). You can’t ask for much more, can you? Without question, this was one of my books of the year…
About the author
Laura Bambrey was born in Dorset but raised in Wales. She’s worked as a trapeze choreographer, sculpture conservator and stilt walker, amongst others, and spent most of her time collecting stories from the people she met along the way.
She has spent many years as a book blogger and reviewer of women’s fiction and now lives in Devon with her very own romantic hero and a ridiculously fluffy rabbit named Mop. The Beginner’s Guide to Loneliness is her début novel.