Not the road-trip I had hoped for
Avaliado no Reino Unido em 11 de junho de 2021
* be aware, potential spoilers
Addie and her sister, Deb, are just on their way on a road-trip to Scotland, where they are due to be attending a friend's wedding, when they are involved in an accident, the driver of the other vehicle, none other than Dylan, Addie's ex-boyfriend. Much to their chagrin, they soon find themselves in a car with both Dylan, and his best friend Marcus, also headed for the same destination. Will they be able to survive this journey together, when the atmosphere is layered with tension and brimming with secrets?
I absolutely loved O'Leary's debut, The Flatshare, which was out a few years ago, and have heard a lot of praise for her second novel too. Coming across this, her third book, I was intrigued by the premise. I love a good road-trip story, with its forced proximity device, and this sounded like it held a lot of potential, particularly in O'Leary's hands. Unfortunately, I have to say I found myself rather disappointed with this book, and despite holding onto the hope that I would eventually fall in love with the characters and story, it just never happened.
The book switches between two time frames, the current day involving the road-trip to Scotland, and chapters set about two years before, charting Addie and Dylan's relationship, from their initial meeting to their eventual break-up. Using this device, O'Leary keeps the reader in the dark as to the exact reason why the couple broke up, until fairly late in the story, teasing at these characters' history together throughout in the present day. The car journey to Scotland, also features an extra character, Rodney, who the girls were merely giving a lift to, and having this relative stranger in the mix allows for some lighter moments and humour.
I liked the premise and also the set up of the book, with its dual time frame. Addie and Dylan initially meet whilst on holiday in Provence, and I enjoyed the rendering of this setting for these parts in particular.
I think one of my biggest gripes was that I never felt invested enough in the central romance. It seems to be a case of insta-love, a clear physical attraction portrayed between the characters certainly, but other than that, the author did not, for me at least, manage to create a convincing emotional connection between these two. Had it just been a holiday romance, I might have been able to believe it, but O'Leary tries to paint them as lovers destined to be together, and I'm afraid I wasn't able to buy into that. I found their relationship rather immature, they go from completely besotted to each other, to constantly having arguments, a very dysfunctional relationship essentially portrayed between Addie, Dylan and Marcus (Dylan's best friend), that could but begin to grate on my nerves, and I was actually glad when they broke up. As such I had no investment in them getting back together, which unfortunately was rather the whole point of the present day narrative.
Marcus features heavily in the story, and is painted as a troubled soul. To begin with I absolutely hated him, he seemed like such an attention-seeker and generally just a toxic character. I will say that as the story went on, I did begin to understand his character a little more, and softened to him a little. I understand the dynamic that O'Leary was trying to capture with these three characters, but for me the execution of it, didn't quite work, and I just thought they were all unhealthy for each other and better off apart. Certainly O'Leary does manage to convey some growth and change in the characters in the present day, but not enough to salvage things in my opinion. Dylan was such a push-over for most of the book, and certainly in the chapters set in the past, that I kind of just wanted to shake him and tell him to take charge of his own life. Again, I appreciate that the author was trying to convey him as a bit of a lost and sensitive soul, and there were hints of him sometimes suffering from depression, but I think those aspects could have been handled better, as the depression was never addressed head on.
* Similarly, towards the end of the story, I didn't think the sexual assault was handled all that strongly either, it all just happened very fast, with no real exploration on the impact it had on the character, but almost just seemed a necessary plot device, and then was even rather glossed over when it came to the characters resolving their issues.
I didn't find this book as funny as I think parts were meant to be either, but rather the jokes and humour as forced and over the top e.g. the whole thing with Rodney at the end.
Overall, this was certainly still readable, but no way lived up to my expectations. It seems like O'Leary was trying to convey more complex characters, certainly in comparison to The Flatshare, and deal with some darker themes, but for me she just did not manage to pull this off, and this was not the road-trip I had hoped for at all. This is a 2.5 stars for me, rounded up just about to 3 stars.
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