Ellis and Michael begin a lifelong friendship after Michael’s mother dies and he comes to live with his grandmother Mabel, both boys sharing the affection of Mabel and Ellis’ mother Dora. The delicacy of their first love romance shatters as Ellis yields to society’s mores after a turning point in France, and even Michael understands that Annie is “the one.” Loving Annie draws Michael into their orbit, expanding her idea of family to include him and his grandmother. Although readers are familiar with the horrific stories of gay men succumbing to AIDS, Winman carefully portrays Michael’s unique perspective on his friends’ deaths—he returns to France where he grieves for all that he’s lost in his life. The first half of the book focuses on Ellis after all of his losses leave him off-kilter, wondering what to do with himself. The second half flashes back through Michael’s journals, a candid look at a man whose fulfilled expectations disappoint. This is a gorgeous story of how love grows to include those who might be estranged by circumstances. I was fortunate to receive a copy through a Goodreads giveaway.
This story opens in an interrogation room, with Angela prepared to tell her story to police, if they will only listen. Finally, Detective Novak allows her to share everything that she feels is relevant, beginning with her meeting H.P. in high school, where he changed her life. They became best friends who fell in love, or as Angela tells the story, soul mates. She leads Detective Novak through their complicated relationship, hampered by her lack of a healthy role model and his small town contentment, and further strained by Angela attending Oxford, where she’s befriended by Freddy, who dotes on her against her will. Detective Novak perks up at the entrance of Saskia, the missing wife, the reason for Angela’s interrogation, during H.P.’s visit to England. Misunderstandings ensue, emotions tangle, and new pathways are formed. Angela blames losing her first love on everyone else, spending her life from that point on waiting for him to do the right thing. When her mother moves in uninvited after leaving her father, she pursues an unhealthy friendship with H.P. as their houseguest and babysitter, which culminates in Saskia’s disappearance. Detective Novak pieces together the evidence through the long night of storytelling by Angela, who is either also an innocent victim or a truly unreliable narrator.
Nay leads the reader through a maze of Angela’s fears, internal struggles, unrealistic desires, and inevitable disappointments. Angela is brilliantly depicted as a minor character in her own life, for which she can then lay guilt at whoever she allowed to make the decisions for her, as she waits in vain for things to go her way without taking action herself. Failure to communicate is a key element in the derailment of Angela’s life, and Nay relays every misstep taken by those underestimating her. The ending is not as well captured as the entire novel leading up to it, subtlety left behind in the previous chapter.
I was fortunate to receive an early copy from the publisher through a giveaway.