Read­ing room: lat­est books

Does love con­quer all? This tale about a dan­ger­ous pas­sion chal­lenges prej­u­dices, writes Juliet Rieden.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

To­gether by Julie Co­hen, Ha­chette.

Rob­bie and Emily are the mar­ried cou­ple ev­ery­one hopes they will grow into; still deeply in love in their au­tumn years, re­spect­ful, best friends and in­sep­a­ra­ble. Right from the first page of this en­gross­ing novel there’s a sense of to­tal union, a to­geth­er­ness that goes way be­yond com­pan­ion­ship: “her body touched his, her back­side snug against his hip, her an­kle curled around his so toes rested against the sole of his foot.”

Rob­bie is a re­tired boat builder and Emily a re­spected ob­ste­tri­cian. Their son Adam is mar­ried with three chil­dren and all are to­gether cel­e­brat­ing, eat­ing cake for his par­ents’ wed­ding an­niver­sary.

“We eloped,” Emily tells her in­quis­i­tive grand­daugh­ter.

“I’m a born ro­man­tic,” ex­plains Rob­bie. It seems too good to be true... and it is, for very quickly we re­alise Rob­bie is los­ing his mem­ory. Yet this is not a novel about Alzheimer’s, al­though it is about the im­por­tance of mem­o­ries, es­pe­cially to this cou­ple, and why keep­ing a firm hand on the past is cru­cial to their ex­is­tence.

Told in re­verse, au­thor Julie Co­hen be­gins with Rob­bie leav­ing that snug warm mar­i­tal bed and Emily be­hind him, and pen­ning a let­ter to ex­plain ac­tions that will break his wife’s heart. From here she clev­erly drip feeds the back story of this mon­u­men­tal and ex­tra­or­di­nary love. It’s a tale that goes back 54 years and in­volves fevered fam­ily ten­sion and deep, dark se­crets. If this sounds a lit­tle top-line, it’s be­cause re­veal­ing too much will ruin the end­ing and the clues are in the de­tail.

The strength of the char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of the cen­tral duo keeps you hooked on their story, and when the end­ing is re­vealed it hits you in the pit of your stom­ach.

“The end­ing came to me in a flash of in­spi­ra­tion one day – which is a rare and mar­vel­lous oc­cur­rence,” Julie Co­hen says. “I didn’t write it to shock, though I hope read­ers will be sur­prised. I want read­ers to get to the end of the book and have to think hard about their own def­i­ni­tions of love, and ev­ery­thing they think they knew about the story they’ve just read.”

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