Today I’m delighted to share my thoughts on Everything Happens For A Reason by Katie Allen, an emotional rollercoaster of a tale brought to us from Orenda Books. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to join the tour and to publisher Orenda Books who sent me an advance copy for review. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
When Rachel’s baby is stillborn, she becomes obsessed with the idea that saving a stranger’s life months earlier is to blame. An unforgettable, heart-wrenching, warm and funny debut.
Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.
When a misguided well-wisher tells her that “everything happens for a reason”, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.
Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results… Both a heart-wrenchingly poignant portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reason is a bittersweet, life- affirming read and, quite simply, unforgettable.
I have to be honest. I think I’m going to find it hard to write this review, and it might not be very long. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book, far from it, I almost don’t feel as though I am in a position to really pass comment. Like I’m not qualified, reading this as a voyeur and not from a position of real empathy. I’ve never experienced this kind of loss. In fact, with perhaps only a couple of exceptions, I haven’t been in a position where I have lost any one who I was so close to that the loss becomes all consuming. Because that is, in essence, what this book is all about. The profound sense of grief that Rachel feels that pushes to to find meaning in her loss and to seek out the person whose life she believes she may have traded for that of her son, Luke’s.
And that, in a very small nutshell, is the premise of this book. That need to understand the incomprehensible. That almost superstitious belief of Rachel’s that in saving a life, she had sealed the fate of her unborn child. It is unclear to begin with if she truly believes this or if it isn;t just the act of clinging to a hope that, as the title of the book suggests, everything does, indeed, happen for a reason, and that some greater purpose was achieved that fateful day. The book follows Rachel’s search for the mystery man with a blend of humour, self recrimination and an occasional touch of melancholy, highlighting Rachel’s struggles with everything, including her marriage, in the wake of their loss. Her loss.
The styling for this book is quite creative, Rachel narrating her story through a series of emails which are addressed to Luke. Now to begin with this seems a little quirky, but it works perfectly for this book. Because the length of the emails can vary, the pacing ebbs and flows as the story requires and the abrupt flow really makes this feel like a proper stream of consciousness from Rachel as she navigates the difficult months of her non-maternal maternity leave. It does mean that all scenes are told from Rachel’s point of view, a kind of alternative first person narrative, in which converations are recalled memories rather than live scenes, but by using this technique, Katie Allen really is taking us deep into the mind of her character. Nothing is off limits, Rachel’s honesty, both upbeat and heartbreaking as it can be, has an authenticity which is enriched by the author’s own experience.
Although Rachel is first and foremost in our minds, there are a varied cast of characters who float in and out of her world. Her mother, her husband, the man whose life she saved, Lola, the woman who helped track him down, and her daughter, Josephine, whose lack of filter makes for some very refreshing and often more light-hearted moments in the story. We get to know them all, but a step removed, only really from how Rachel perceives them, or at least explains them to Luke, so whilst they inform the story, it really is not about them. And then there is Rachel’s family – both immediate and extended. There were times when Rachel drove me a little crazy, when you can understand why the family might expect her to ‘move on’ and ‘get over it,’ but then they are contrasted with the moments of crass and overwhelming insensitivity that her family display, when I was left so angry on Rachel’s behalf, it was unbelievable.
I know I haven’t really done the book justice in this review. This is the story of one woman’s expression of grief. It is honest, uncompromising, a list of all the things that Rachel would say to Luke should he have lived. The marking of his milestones. The emptiness of loss she experiences. The quest for answers the universe cannot give, and the toll it takes on her relationships. It is both witty and it is emotional. It illustrates moments of hope and moments of despair. It is a book which lingers in the mind, and one which many will be able to empathise with. And I think, for those like Rachel who have experienced this impossible loss, the death of a loved one, the loss of a child, it probably says all of the things that they want and need to say, stating loud and clear to everyone that there really is no ‘right’ way to grieve. It is a unique take on a difficult subject and one I think will receive plenty of well deserved praise. Be prepared for an emotional journey.
About the Author
Everything Happens for a Reason is Katie’s first novel. She used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London. The events in Everything Happens for a Reason are fiction, but the premise is loosely autobiographical. Katie’s son, Finn, was stillborn in 2010, and her character’s experience of grief and being on maternity leave without a baby is based on her own. And yes, someone did say to her ‘Everything happens for a reason’. Katie grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. When she’s not writing or walking children and dogs, Katie loves baking, playing the piano, reading news and wishing she had written other people’s brilliant novels.
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Books by Katie Allen