Reading room: latest books
Does love conquer all? This tale about a dangerous passion challenges prejudices, writes Juliet Rieden.
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.”