A disappointing read with few plot twists and characters that don't spark.
Messy. Wonderful Us is the second novel from British author, Catherine Isaac. Compared to the likes of JoJo Moyes and Cecelia Ahern, this contemporary women’s fiction tale tells the story of three intricately interwoven characters – Allie Culpepper whose mother died when she was only six-years-old, Ed Holt, Allie’s best friend from school, and a mysterious woman from the past who remains incognito for most of the novel.
Allie is a researcher investigating cures for disabling diseases. She’s sensible, single and her life is bland and predictable. That is, until she discovers an old letter hidden in her grandmother’s sock drawer that strongly indicates Allie’s mother had an affair and that her father may not be the loving man who raised her. Desperate to discover the truth without upsetting the only family she’s ever known, she travels to Italy with bestie, Ed, to find the man who might be her real father.
Ed is super-smart, a successful entrepreneur, handsome with a gorgeous wife, and utterly miserable. Confused and sad about the path his life has taken, he joins Allie on her quest both as a concerned friend, and for his own reasons. He can’t quite bring himself to tell Allie what’s going on in his marriage, some of his reluctance due to their long, messy, not-entirely-platonic friendship.
The third voice to populate this story is a young woman from the past. She is scared – she’s in a situation that neither her family nor society can forgive. She feels alone, rejected and yet entirely protective of the baby growing insider her. In some ways, these flashback scenes are the most beautiful of the entire novel and add a layer of complexity to the otherwise simple story.
While Isaacs carefully strings these multiple narratives together to create a cohesive story, it lacks that special something. All the key ingredients for a gripping novel are present and the writing style is sleek, but it failed to grab and pull me in. I desperately wanted to love it, I didn’t. This perhaps had something to do with the pacing – slow to tedious in places – and a lack of real spark between the characters. There are a few plot twists that rescue the tale from predictability and while this raised my interest a little, was not enough to sustain it.
The flashback scenes were beautifully written and held more appeal than the present day storyline, but this alone was not enough to make Messy, Wonderful Us a great read. Others who love this kind of tale may feel differently, but this reviewer’s advice is to hold out for the latest JoJo Moyes or Marian Keyes.
Reviewed by Samantha Bond
Distributed by: Simon & Schuster Australia
Released: June 2019