Book Review

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The Distance Between Us is a well written novel from the author of Hamnet, and an interesting book in both plot and style. It is a reasonably quick read, though with a slow and somewhat confusing start as various characters from two widely disparate families are introduced. As two plots develop simultaneously, two main characters begin to emerge: Stella, trying desperately to escape a troubling memory soaked in guilt; and Jake, trying to escape a loveless marriage which he has undertaken for the best of reasons but which is stifling him. Jake’s problems are obvious; around Stella’s past there is a cloak of mystery, an intriguing element which unfolds very gradually.

The two main characters are from totally different parts of the world. Jake has grown up in Hong Kong, with a Scottish mother and an unknown father for whom, in his mind at least, he is always searching. Stella is continents away, near Edinburgh, scarred by her older sister’s infirmities and the brutal bullying these have produced for both girls at their local school. Jake and Stella know nothing of each other until more than halfway through the book, and then with major impediments to their potential relationship. Each is burdened, but each commands the respect and sympathy of the reader.

Jake and Stella meet when they are hired at a former grand home in an isolated spot in northern Scotland, now a kind of resort hotel, where both are hired on short notice: Jake as a glorified handyman, and Stella as a general factotum/housekeeper/assistant to the owner. The path to their slowly blossoming relationship is fraught with difficulties, but any reader would be cheering for the hapless couple–hapless but not helpless. Various well- meaning relatives on both sides complicate the picture. One in particular is especially appealing, a free-wheeling and warm hearted aunt named Evie, a relative anyone would love. But even Evie can’t accomplish miracles, though she tries.

The settings of the novel range from Hong Kong to London to rural Scotland, and the scenes ricochet in both time and place. The plot, though perhaps a bit far-fetched, is believable; and the resolution, though a bit unlikely, is satisfying. It’s reassuring to find a novel which feels real and genuine, with skillful dialogue and descriptions, that doesn’t leave the reader either downcast or confused. As reading material goes, The Distance Between Us is neither heavy nor light, but meaningful enough and centered around both choices and accidents ripe for book group discussions. From the award-winning author of Hamnet, another success!

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