As I eagerly approached my keyboard to write this review for Netgalley, there was only one thought that seemed to spring to mind “where on earth do I begin?” When there is so much to say for Margarita Montimore’s awe-inspiring debut The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart, starting at the beginning seems like a horrendously boring place to start. For those unfamiliar with this nostalgia filled title, Oona Lockhart is a young woman that, on the eve of her 20th birthday, is fated to live her life in a mismatched order. Every New year she is catapulted to both a body and an era that is out of sync with her inner self. Subverting the boundaries of both genre and linear storytelling, plot-twists await for anyone smart enough to peak its pages.
The year is 1982 and New Year festivities are well underway for 19yr old Oona. She will turn 20 at the stroke of midnight and her band Early Dawning are preparing to play a celebratory set. After this set, however, Oona must decide whether to leave the band (and her frontman/boyfriend Dale) for a college year abroad or to dropout and pursue a potentially non-existent music career. That is until Oona finds herself miraculously transported to the year 2015…and into a 52 yr old version of herself. It is here that she learns that every New Year she will now live her life out of order – her internal age never again matching her outer appearance. What ensues is several years of playing catch up, with both her life and the era in which she’s been abruptly transplanted. One year she’s a nineties club-goer, the next she’s a wife to a man she’s never met. Wearisome of never knowing what or who the next year brings, Oona desperately clutches to any resemblances of continuity; newfound friendships and her relationship with her mother. However, as time goes on (in the loosest sense of the phrase) she also begins to cherish the beauty that living this way brings. Knowing that one day she will find all that she has lost once again.
She’d collect these good days, each one illuminated, and string them together until they glowed brightly in her memory like Christmas lights in a mirrored room.
In narrating the incredibly complicated life of Oona Lockhart, Montimore takes the rom-com melodrama of 13 Going on 30 and blends it with the 80s aesthetics of Back to the Future. In fact, anyone in my presence whilst reading this book will have experienced secondhand the rollercoaster that it took me on. Not unlike the incredulous life it intends to dissect, it’s topsy turvy narrative ensured that I was never quite certain about what lay ahead. The magic of this is that readers find themselves reflected in Oona’s haphazard journey. They will fall in love with her beau’s, they will be saddened by her losses and they will be completely gobsmacked by her too-late discoveries. It is this compelling exploration of what it means to be alive (whether rearranged or not) that left me reeling long after I put this book down. After all, no one really feels their age. In the same way that no one can predict their destiny. Montimore demands that her readers cherish every moment that they have and embrace life for all of it’s uncertainty. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt thus far, it’s that life is what happens when you’re busy making plans and this book is the perfect balm for unprecedented times.
Unfortunately, in narrating the incredibly complicated life of Oona Lockhart, Montimore also makes things a bit, well, complicated. Although the plot twists and non-linearity are both dealt with a great deal of skill and precision. There were times when my brain was working overtime just to make sense of it all. In fact, there are so many time slips (not necessarily a criticism) that are all interconnected that I felt like I was mentally taking notes on how all the plot holes were being filled. It wouldn’t surprise me if Montimore had a serial killer like corkboard linking A to Z. Parallel to this, is the whiplash I occasionally felt from Oona jumping from one year to the next. I think it worked well on the whole but that’s not to say that I didn’t find some aspects of her character development confusing. One minute she can’t cope without Dale, the next she’s straddling some random man? Rather than seeing Oona grow naturally through a traditional story arc, this chopping and changing naturally makes for a jigsaw assembly of character progression. In the end, I had to somewhat suspend my disbelief and take the book as it is…a fun sci-fi that celebrates its own implausibility. The very fact that we gain no answers to how or why her ability came to be (sorry for the spoilers) illustrates that this is a book to be simply taken at face value…and, oh, what a beguiling face it has.
Given the turmoil that seems to have kicked off 2020, I think we could all do with some lighthearted literature. Channeling book club romance and the 80s sci-fi , this book will have you mulling over all of the “what ifs” and “should have dones” of your lives. Yet, somehow still leave you with an overwhelming excitement for what’s still to come. So, I urge you all to stand to attention and appreciate the book that is The Rearranged Life of Oona Lockhart?
…because, let me tell you, pay attention you must.