Being the avid Dolly Alderton admirer that I am, I was ecstatic when Net Galley and Penguin gave me this review ecopy, and it didn’t disappoint. Though quite lighthearted this book explores the myriad forms of loss and how these sensitive emotions feast on the nostalgia of what once was. Nina is 32 and one of few single friends in her friendship group. Deciding to get back on to the dating scene, she signs up to a dating app, where she matches with a guy called Max. After some successful dates, he suddenly “ghosts” her – leaving her utterly confused. Amidst all this she grapples with her dad’s decline due to dementia and her changing relationships with her friends.
Dolly has this marvellous way of bringing her characters to life. While I think you can tell this is her first foray into fiction in the first few chapters, once she gets into the swing of things, boy does she work her magic. Each character is so distinct and believable that I could tell who was talking just from dialogue; which is the mark of a true craftsman. I think the discussion of memory and it’s role in maintaining and creating relationships is an evocative one. Indeed, as she witnesses her brilliant Dad begin to forget the things that made him him and, worse, the precious moments he shared with Nina, it is a compelling and sensitively realised depiction of how much we rely on shared memory for connectivity. Furthermore when it feels her friends are living very different lives and alienating her for her decisions, she realises the chasm that can form when one doesn’t make new memories with the people in their lives. On that note, the discussion of motherhood and female choices is also an interesting undercurrent e.g the frazzled mum believing everyone else is having fun and thus seeks validation in other mothers or making unnecessary comments to Nina.
Though Nina is in her thirties many of the things she experiences are relatable at any age. I found dolly’s writing very observant and gives its younger readers a taste of what is to come. Particularly, those emotions of feeling out of sync with her peers and that weird grief that’s felt at the demise of an almost future. Indeed, ghosting (someone you have made a connection with just disappearing) is HORRID and she explores those feelings of dejection perfectly. I will note, however, that the cast (from what I could tell) wasn’t majorly diverse and some were a teensy bit cliché, but ones you’ve likely encountered in day to day life. Like I said, I found the writing very clunky to begin with. It felt very “showing not telling” to steal a writing/editorial phrase. I also felt like though the matter of dementia was dealt with very sensitively, there were times when I though it was a little to explanatory and like information had been slightly dumped in. Nevertheless I couldn’t put this book down once I got into it and would recommend it to anyone that is a fan of Olive by Emma Gannon.
Reading this book in a time of deep uncertainty, and a time when I haven’t seen 80% of my friends in over a year, felt very apt. Add this to the fact that one of my very dear friends has been dealing with a relative with dementia, I could relate wholeheartedly with Nina’s tribulations. Through Nina readers are given the space to gently contemplate their own relationships and the ghosts that may be appearing in their own lives. And while this book brought up many a horrid memory of being left wondering whether the guy I liked was even alive, it also felt like the perfect balm for a winter’s night.