When Alice wakes up from a fall and knock on the head, she doesn’t know where she is or what’s happening. In her mind, she’s 29, in love with her husband, and a few months into her first pregnancy. In reality, she’s 39, a mother of three, and going through a very nasty divorce.
First: This is the first book I’ve read in months that I was fully invested in and couldn’t stop reading. That felt good.
Second: Alice’s situation is closely related to one of my worst fears. As a teen, I once read a book about a girl who went into a coma around the age of 13 and didn’t wake up for four years. She had no memory of those four years of course, and everything around her had changed, including her body. I used to have nightmares about this situation – falling asleep and waking up to find so much of the world altered. Not knowing, not remembering, is a terrifying thing. With Alice’s situation, there was always the assurance that eventually, her memory would return, so it’s not quite as scary. The “in the meantime” moments, however, were difficult. Even though I loved the book, it was hard to read with my personal fear.
Third: The best part of this book involves spoilers, so you’ll want to stop reading if you don’t want to know them. The whole setup of this book is that Alice spends the days after her fall acting like her 29-year-old self. She doesn’t know her children, she doesn’t remember her friends, she doesn’t recognized her changed body. And especially, she doesn’t understand the change in her relationships from the last ten years. Slowly, she pushes people to tell her things that happened with friends and family and her husband, Nick. She pushes him to talk to her as well, trying to get him to come back to her and for them to be a family again. As the days pass, Nick softens little by little, and he tells her some of things that they fought over and how trivial things got between them. When Alice’s memory inevitably returns, she gets a new perspective on the things he told her, and the quotes cut down to the core. Some examples:
Of course she’d told Gina she was pregnant with Olivia before she told Nick. Nick was in the UK for two weeks. He only called twice.
It was not “cherries.” It was half a fruit platter. A beautifully presented fruit platter she’d spent the morning making to take to his mother’s place. She was rushing around trying to get the children dressed and instead of helping, he was reading the paper and happily eating his way through the fruit platter, as if Alice were the hired help.
All throughout Alice’s amnesia, the idea is presented that in her missing ten years, she became a bitter, nasty wife who took advantage of her husband’s time and money, and who treated him like an afterthought and a perpetual money machine. Alice didn’t like the person she’d become. And when her memory comes back, her bitterness and nastiness and anger all slot into place. Nick didn’t help with the children, didn’t pay attention to her concerns, didn’t listen to her, didn’t involve himself in family affairs, didn’t notice her or the things happening around him. He was career-driven and content to have her take care of 100% of the house, kids, school, and daily life of the family. And then complained about being treated unfairly when she wasn’t happy.
I’ve rarely read about the dissolution of a marriage (not involving infidelity etc) that has been captured so well in all its nuances. The way Moriarty was able to turn perspective like that was brilliant. The book was equal parts satisfying, distressing, painful, and nostalgic. It’s by far my favorite of Moriarty’s that I’ve read so far.
Additionally, the book goes into other deep topics, from infertility and miscarriage to friendships that become lifelines, from the way negative emotions can unintentionally get tied up in your relationships with your children to the tricky navigation of dating post-separation. It also asks the question – if you lost ten years of your life, what would you want your ten-years-younger self to know? And what would she tell you if she could see what you’d become? I finished the book a week ago, and I still haven’t gotten the question out of my mind. That right there, even without all the rest, marks the novel as a great one.
See also: Callback Review from 2021.