An Alternative Valentine's Day Read
For many people Valentine's Day is an opportunity to tell their partners they love them. It's an excuse to buy each other presents and to spend exorbitant amounts on long stemmed red roses. It's not a day my husband and I usually pay much attention to. He buys me flowers all year round and never buys me red roses because he knows I don't particularly like them. Usually, the day is used as an excuse to have our dinner separately to the boys, ensuring we can actually have a conversation with each other that isn't interrupted by arguments or instructions to 'be quiet and eat your dinner'. We normally buy an M&S dine in for two meal and enjoy the peaceful meal and that's about it. Some years we say we're not doing cards and presents and then one of us will stick to it and the other won't. It's very rare for us to actually decide we're going to go all in for the day, but this year it's Lockdown and we're bored, so we thought why not? Let's buy into it for once. But even then it didn't go quite to plan. He bought me a Percy Pig gift set containing a box of biscuits identical to one I'd bought for us all to share four days ago. I bought him a Miami Dolphins jumper that's meant to be a medium but didn't even reach his waist. The biscuits will be eaten regardless and the jumper will be returned and exchanged for something else, we know the thought was there, but it seems to sum up quite nicely the realities of married life - not everything turns out quite the way it was planned and sometimes you've just got to roll with it.
It's always seemed bizarre to me that the whole notion of this day dedicated to romance sprang from either the martyrdom of a man or from a Roman festival where women were whipped with the hides of sacrificed animals, neither of which strike me as particularly inspiring for would-be lovers. There also seems to be a growing trend for parents to give cards and presents to their children on this day, so I'm not quite sure how any of this fits together and this is often also the case when I read romance novels. There's such a wide variety of books that are classified in this genre, from authors like Wendy Holden to Sara Gruen that it leaves me confused when books as diverse as Honeymoon Suite and Water For Elephants are linked by their genre.
As I've said before, I'm not a huge fan of rom-com novels on the whole, so when I saw Morwenna Blackwood's debut novel The (D)Evolution of Us was on offer and being advertised with this tagline 'Blood is red, Movies are blue, Sick of the Sugar? Yeah me too' I decided it sounded like the perfect book to read on Valentine's Day. I only found out recently that Morwenna is a graduate of the Novel in a Year course I've just started and that I'd actually met her in person last year without realising who she was, so it seemed serendipitous that her book advert should appear on my Facebook feed yesterday.
The book is a thriller and it's everything you could want in a book of this genre. It's well-paced, well-plotted and keeps you guessing right the way through. There's an occasional red herring and subtly dropped clues throughout the story. Containing a story within a story, It is the piece of meta-fiction that ties everything together and allows the reader to fall into the trap of thinking that because they know more than the individual characters, they know exactly what's going on. They don't. If you're not a fan of Valentine's Day, this is the perfect antidote to all the inevitably gushing Facebook posts featuring pictures of smiling couples declaring how wonderful their partner is. (Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with this, it's just not for everyone and ties into the whole issue of the 'perfect' social media, Instagrammed life) This is a story about the darker side of love - the control, the abuse, the victim-blaming - and the stigma surrounding mental health issues. This book is written from the perspective of the sufferer and throws a light on many of the prejudices about mental health, including the impact it can have on the believability of victims of abuse. As well as being a fantastic read, it's also thought-provoking and unnerving. This is a piece of fiction, but could quite easily be real. For me, the best books are those that make you think and The (D)Evolution of Us most certainly does that!
If after reading this, you think that this might just be the book for you as well, it's available here for free on Kindle just for this weekend. However, if you're late reading this, I'd spend the money and buy it - I doubt you'll regret it and I'll certainly be watching out for the next book when it's published. You can also keep up with Morwenna through her Facebook page here.
Happy reading and Happy Valentine's Day, however you choose to celebrate it!