It’s a real pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for How To Save A Life by Clare Swatman, and to share my review. This lovely book was published by Boldwood Books on 8th June, and is now available as an ebook (free via Kindle Unlimited), in paperback, and as an audiobook. My thanks to Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley).
I’ve been wanting to read a book from Clare Swatman for a while – I very nearly got there with Before We Grow Old (did you see all those wonderful reviews too?), and it hopefully won’t be languishing on my kindle for too much longer. I will confess though that I have read one of her books before, back in 2017 – it was her first, Before You Go (and I’ve just noticed that Boldwood will be republishing it in September – one you might like to preorder?). It’s such a dreadfully lacklustre review that I’m not even going to provide a link (not like me at all, eh?), and I really think it was a case of “wrong book, bad timing” for me – but I do remember how cleverly it was constructed, with really sympathetic characters, a convincing relationship, well drawn emotions, a nice gentle humour, copious musical and cultural references, and plenty to keep you turning the pages as you wondered quite how the story would work itself out by the end.
But that was then, and this is now – and all the reviews I’ve read of Clare’s books have convinced me that I’ve been really missing out, and I badly needed to put that right. Let’s take a closer look at her latest…
One night in December, twenty-two year old Ted Green makes his way to Waterloo Bridge determined to end his life. Lonely, despairing and utterly hopeless, it seems the only choice to make.
That same night in December, Marianne Cooper is running away from a party. Having found her boyfriend in a passionate clinch with someone else, Marianne can’t get away fast enough. But as she makes her way along London’s South Bank, a figure catches her eye on top of the bridge.
Then she sees him, a man ready to jump.
When Marianne saves Ted’s life, this night in December becomes one they’ll never forget, but as Ted watches Marianne leave in a black taxi, all he can think is he should have asked her name.
In a story spanning twenty years, join Ted and Marianne as they navigate life’s twists and turns, joys and heartbreaks, while all the time wondering – will fate ever bring them together again…
Well, I’m not sure where to start with my review of this one – but only because I absolutely loved every single moment, read it in a single sitting, laughed and cried, got totally caught up in the characters’ lives, and put it down at the end (with a bit of a wrench, returning to my own life again…) with the thought “that was just wonderful”.
Both Marianne and Ted had a place in my heart from the very start (isn’t it lovely when that happens?) – particularly Ted, plagued by nightmares only dulled by alcohol, badly damaged by his experience in the Gulf war, homeless and jobless, placing rocks in his rucksack and pockets before making his way to Waterloo Bridge to end it all. But he hadn’t reckoned on Marianne – on her way home from a disastrous party, wearing fairy wings, her face a mess of tears and glitter – who calmly stops him jumping, before getting into a cab and disappearing into the night. Ted tries to find her with an advert in the Evening Standard that she doesn’t see, moves on with his life with the support of a counsellor, gets a fresh sense of purpose by training to be a doctor – but never forgets the Fairy Girl who saved his life. And Marianne, while moving on with her own life too, can’t get her thoughts of Bridge Man out of her head.
The book follows their separate lives over the next twenty years – their careers, their relationships, their mistakes and successes, their moments of joy and despair – each of them hoping that their paths will cross again. Although the impact of that moment on the bridge is actually much more significant than that – it affects every decision they make, every aspect of their lives, although they can barely remember each other’s faces as the years pass and don’t even know each other’s names. Until… but no, this is a story I’ll let you discover for yourself, follow every twist and turn of their lives, and see if you find its ending as absolutely fitting and thoroughly perfect as I did.
It’s one of those books with a wonderful balance of light and dark – moments of sheer joy, plenty of laughter, counter-balanced by its sensitive handling of a number of fairly serious issues that arise in both their lives. I enjoyed its focus on families and all their complications – and on friendship, with Ted’s friend Danny one of the loveliest and most genuine of the many well-drawn supporting characters. The writing is just wonderful too – the story is told from both their perspectives, sometimes the same story when they have some of the near misses that inevitably happen over a lifetime, and that works ever so well. As the years pass, the cleverness of the story’s construction quite took my breath away – but the scaffolding never shows as the pages turn and you’re totally immersed in (and enthralled by) the developing story. At times the emotional content is difficult, and tears flow – but I always felt in a safe pair of hands as the author led me through.
This book is just wonderful – one you live and experience rather than read – and I now want to go back and enjoy everything Clare Swatman has ever written. Highly recommended and, without question, one of my books of the year.
About the author
Clare Swatman is the author of three women’s fiction novels, published by Macmillan, which have been translated into over 20 languages. She has been a journalist for over twenty years, writing for Bella and Woman & Home amongst many other magazines. She lives in Hertfordshire. Her first book for Boldwood, Before We Grow Old, was published in January 2022.