Saturday, 23 January 2010

'The Last to Know' by Melissa Hill

I said in my last but one blog that I intended to read some more novels by Melissa Hill. Well, I have just finished 'The Last to Know: can you keep a secret?' by her (published by Hodder and Stoughton, London, 2008, ISBN 10 0340953314; 13 978 0340953310 (pbk) and it was a truly incredible book. The plot went to places that I never, ever imagined it would go. It was also all extremely cleverly and powerfully written. Full details of the book on amazon can be found at:

The book starts off as seeming to be quite a straightforward novel. We have Anna and Ronan and Eve and Liam who are all good friends, and have been so since childhood. Then, we have Sam who is Eve's sister, who lives in London, is a very successful novelist and a columnist and is going out with Derek. Well, immediately of course, I am connected!

Eve has 2 children by Liam - she is very maternal, and loves Liam but Liam is not keen on committing himself in marriage. He also works away a lot. We are quickly informed about the difference in the characters between the two sisters. At this point I am reminded of one of my favourite novels - 'Alexa' by Andrea Newman, which revolves around two friends, one who is an earth mother (and puts her all into her husband and children) whilst the other is a successful writer. Anyway, whilst Eve is desperately keen to marry Liam, Sam keeps fighting off her man Derek. This is because he is making her choose between a normal, conventional married life with him and her writing. Sam reflects thus:

"He [Derek] didn't just want the ring on Sam's finger, he also wanted the house in the Cotswolds, the kids, the Labradors, the budgies, etc. And even worse, she knew he'd want her to forget all about the writing career she adored and had spent years trying to build." (p. 26)

As children, Sam and Eve had always been very different in this way.

"As a child, Eve had always been the one dressing up dolls and pushing them around in her toy pram, while Sam had sat in a corner, poring over the latest Mallory Towers book. But she and Eve had always been very different in that respect." (p. 28)

And then later we have Eve reflecting thus:

"When Eve called last night her sister wasn't planning on going to sleep but was instead reading a book - a rare event in Eve's house, reading having never been particularly high on her own list of priorities. In fairness, most days she was lucky if she found the time to peruse the outside of a milk carton never mind a couple of hundred pages! But Sam had always been the same, and when the two girls were kids her sister's nose was forever stuck in some boring book while Eve much preferred playing with her dolls. So it was no great surprise really that their adult lives had pretty much followed suit, Sam becoming a writer and Eve a housewife and mum." (p. 133)

Well, of course, I immediately connected with the Sam character. I have 3 sons but even when they were small I still read loads. So, the idea that there is no time to read seems very strange to me; very strange indeed. Rather, without my books I would not have kept my sanity, and would not have brought the 3 of them up at all well! And I think (and hope) that the way that I was, has helped them to find themselves, and to become what they want to become. Anyway, of course, we are all different.

To return to the book: Sam thinks it would be good for Eve to have a break and it would be beneficial for her to find out more about domestic life; so they do a swop (another similiarity here with the book 'Alexa'). Eve goes and stays in Sam's flat in London for a weekend, and explores the London sights, and Sam goes to Ireland to look after Eve's children. Eve enjoys herself but soon realises that she wants to go back to her family. Sam resumes her life in London, but then realises that she needed to finish with Derek. Later she moves back to Ireland herself, whilst continuing with her successful career as a novelist.

Then, suddenly we are introduced to a new character in the book - one Brooke Reynolds in Australia, who is a publisher and is reading this manuscript - she finds all the characters, Sam, Eve etc and the plot very interesting. Hey, this is strange - so it is a novel within a novel, it seems, and is about a novelist! Perfect book for me, eh! Brooke is gripped by the manuscript; she thinks it is definitely publishable. She found it on the top of a pile on her desk, with a note that she should read it, give it priority etc. Yet, she can find no author details, no contact details. Strange again. Anyway, she reads on, and we are, once again, returned to the novel and the characters.

We discover that the first time Sam sees Ronan she thinks that he is the man that she is destined to be with; there is a chemistry there, he lights her up, despite herself, and there is little she can do about it. He belongs to Anna, but that doesn't have any bearing on her feelings, which basically seem to be beyond her control. At the same time, she has this instinctual feeling that for all their talk and appearance, that Anna actually has a 'thing about', perhaps is really and deeply in love with Liam rather than Ronan. Is this just wishful thinking on Sam's part, one wonders? Things are getting complicated!

Then, we discover that Anna is pregnant. Now, is this Ronan or Liam's, one wonders? Anna and Ronan do not seem at all keen to tie the knot. Why is that, one wonders? Also, why is Anna so reluctant to tell Ronan that she is pregnant? (which she doesn't do until she is 7 months pregnant).

Meanwhile, suddenly Eve (with the help of her children) persuades Liam to marry her - even though he still does not want to take much part in the actual preparations. Then, there is the most tragic of tragedies. Liam and the 2 children (with Liam driving) are killed in a car crash.

Now, the novel returns to Brooke who, of course, is highly confused. Why kill off one of the main characters in this way? This did not seem to make any sense to her at all. She is getting puzzled. We also see her having to deal with a successful novelist that is late with the delivery of her latest manuscript, demonstrating the pressure that successful authors are under in this regard (p. 115)

Once more, we are returned to the novel. Eve cannot take it in; can't believe it or come to terms with the accident and the death of Liam (the man that she loved so passionately) and her 2 children at all. Those around her are worried about her. But then she seems to cheer up a bit. She offers to babysit for Anna and Ronan's by now 8 week old baby. Whilst babysitting she finds a teddy that Liam has given to the baby; she becomes convinced that the baby is Liam's, not Ronan's. She runs off with the child; Anna and Ronan return, realise that both Eve and the baby have vanished and are besides themselves.

Meanwhile, Eve is on an aeroplane to the other side of the world - Australia. She brings the child up (who we now discover was called Brooke); she has no regrets. In her eyes, Anna had everything, whilst she had lost everything. Then, Eve becomes ill. She doesn't want to die, leaving Brooke thinking that she has no family. So she makes contact with Sam. Still, it is some while before Sam lets Anna know - she was worried that things could go wrong. Sam still wasn't able to contact Eve directly at first; but she cracked that one through the newsletter that she sent out now and then to her readers, which she then posted on her site. Wow - I do that as well of course - another coincidence!

We return to Brooke who is now, obviously, beside herself. Is this no novel at all, but someone trying to tell her about her family history and to fill the gaps in about her own life? Or is she going mad or what? She can't stand it, she has to find out. She flies to Ireland and meets up with Sam directly. And yes, Samantha Reynolds, the famous best-selling novelist is her aunt, and it is Sam who wrote this manuscript and got it sent to Brooke to read (via Eve's best friend, Bev). Oh wow! We then discover that Liam never was Brooke's father; it was Ronan all along. We also discover that after Eve ran off with Brooke things went badly wrong with Anna and Ronan and in the end they separated; and Sam and Ronan did, indeed, get together! We see Anna at the end who is sad but so glad to be reconciled with her daughter. Brooke goes back to Australia and of course, the manuscript is never published!

The book also included some discussion as to why Sam and Anna decided to inform Brooke about her family history through a novel rather than directly through a letter or some other means (such as a phone call or email). They thought that any other method of communication would be too much of a shock for Brooke and/or that she might not take it all in fully. So, once again, this demonstrates one of the many ways in which the novel can be so powerful, I think. In discussion with Glenn about the book (I just had to tell him a little about the book - the plot was just so amazing), an idea hit me - that at some point I could, perhaps, write a novel based around the success (or otherwise) of our non-fiction works. Perhaps, such a method would be a more effective marketing strategy, than the more typical ones used! It is all food-for-thought anyway.

A truly amazing book, with an ingenious plot.

Meanwhile, as ever, happy reading to one and all.

And yes, the book has another lovely book cover and here it is!

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