This month I was sent the fourth book in the Mumsnet BookClub, Francesca Segal’s second novel, The Awkward Age. Her first novel, The Innocents, won the Costa First Novel Award and so I had high expectations from her second novel and couldn’t wait to start reading.
The Awkward age tells the story of Julia, a widowed music teacher, who falls in love with James, a divorced obstetrician, who have seized the opportunity for a second chance at happiness. Julie and James both have children from their previous relationships – Gwen and Nathan – who we soon come to realise, can’t stand each other.
What we don’t realise is, there’s a fine line between love and hate.
The novel initially takes us through the problems which blended families face, learning to accommodate each other, make sacrifices and compromise, learning to accept that whilst falling in love with a new partner may seem like the most natural thing in the world, for children, and especially for teenagers, it can be incredibly hard.
Throughout the first few chapters I felt increasingly frustrated with Gwen who, at sixteen, was behaving like a petulant child, and yet as the novel progressed we learn a little more about why Gwen is acting this way and start to feel sorry for her. Whilst Julia and James are so caught up in their quest for the perfect family, they neglect to realise that Gwen is still grieving for her Father and struggles to allow others into the tight unit she has built with Julia over the last five years.
It doesn’t take long to realise that, although on the surface Julia and James have a wonderful relationship, the seams fast start to become undone. We soon realise that, whilst the children are indeed a catalyst in their arguments, they are not the sole cause of the apparent breakdown of their relationship. And although I don’t doubt that Julia and James love each other, whether they are compatible as a couple does come into question.
As a reader there is a real sense of voyeurism throughout the story, as though we are always on the edge of private moments, eavesdropping on a conversation, witnessing arguments spoken in hushed whispers, party to the secrets and lies within a family who are struggling to survive. I felt that it was easy to foresee the series of events before they actually unfolded, and yet when the truth is out (something I won’t spoil for you!), what happens next was still quite surprising!
I have always loved to read books with a happy ending, it comes from my own quest to find my happy ever after, and yet The Awkward Age doesn’t promise you that. Francesa Segal doesn’t pretend that love is easy, nor that it is for always, and yet what she does promise you is a true insight into the reality of navigating your way through life, through love, and through heartache. By the time I came to the end of the book I felt emotionally exhausted, and I couldn’t shake the question in my mind, but what happens next??
Unlike Eleanor Olephant or The Cows, The Awkward Age isn’t a book that I would pick up and read again, and yet that doesn’t take away from the fact that it was well written and told a very real, if not slightly uncomfortable, story. I would definitely recommend others to read it, just remember to buckle up for a rollercoaster of emotions!
** I was gifted this book as a member of the Mumsnet Book Club. All words and opinions are my own. **