While taking a wintery walk on Hampstead Heath in 1980, Elise Morceau meets the bold, successful writer, Constance (Connie) Holden. Falling in love fast, Elise soon becomes infatuated with this enigmatic, brilliant older woman. She is so drawn to Connie that she follows her to LA, where Connie’s first novel is being made into a major motion picture. But as time goes by, Elise feels increasingly lost and out of her depth. In a catalytic moment of spontaneity, Elise makes a choice that will upend her life as she knew it.
Fast forward thirty or so years, Rose Simmons is searching for the mother she doesn’t remember. Raised by her father, Rose’s mother left many years ago without a trace. Now, dissatisfied with so much of her life and relationships, Rose wants to track down her allusive mother. The search takes her to Constance Holden, the last person to see her mother before she disappeared.
I really enjoyed this novel, from the very first pages. In the opening chapter we meet Elise – a young, lost soul who finds excitement, comfort and some sense of security (albeit false) when she becomes intertwined with the famous author, Connie Holden. They meet quite by chance, and their relationship takes the reader on a fast-paced, rapid, precarious journey.
‘Elise thought about love that night, with Connie’s book splayed open on her chest, the spine cracked slightly under the library plastic. Love. How might it feel? Elise believed that for her whole life she had been tiptoeing round the edge of a volcanic crater whose depths she could not quantify, but which was full of something powerful, something she had never been shown before. Down in that darkness were many happy souls but many dead bodies’.
For every insecurity Elise has, Connie has an equal and opposite confidence. Connie is driving forward her dream life. Elise is in the passenger seat, unsure when she might be turfed out.
Throughout this novel, there are a lot of confused and floundering characters, trying to piece together the fragments of their lives and make sense of it all. I think it’s the description of these unfulfilled and perpetually self-doubting characters that hooked me in so quickly. I became immediately invested in how they would eventually take control of their lives and create for themselves something resembling happiness. Without spoiling the intricate plot (which reveals its twists and turns in pleasing ways throughout), some characters are more successful than others at finding their way, reconciling their wrongs and making their confessions.
The narrative is split into two, with alternating chapters taking place in 1980 and 2017 respectively. Running parallel to Elise’s life in 1980s LA, we read about Rose who lives in London some thirty years later. She is not as young as Elise, or as wild, but she struggles with much of the same anxieties and self-doubt.
‘I was ashamed of my stasis and ineptitude – because the truth is, everyone has their losses, their shame, their obsessive thoughts, and these people seem to manage it. Somehow they do it – they get on, they make a life for themselves. I hadn’t managed it..I hadn’t made anything for myself’
When Rose is, unexpectedly, given the chance to meet Constance Holden, she takes it. Adopting a fake identity, she becomes Connie’s assistant. This is her watershed, lightning bolt, straw-breaking-camel’s-back moment – she can’t resist the curiosity to find out more about Connie and, in doing so, learn about her mother. From this point on, the novel becomes an enticing, compulsive and page-turning read.
Connie Holden is the consistent link that ties it all together, as she features in every chapter. For me, of all of the complex characters weaved together throughout this novel, Connie is perhaps the least convincing. While being bold, artistic and alluring, I found her also inconsistent – at times cold and intolerant, at other times overly generous and understanding. Perhaps it’s that contrast and unpredictability that make her interesting but for me, it made her words and actions sometimes feel a bit inauthentic at times. Nevertheless, I loved finding out more and more about her relationships with Rose, Elise and a whole cast of other characters along the way.
I would really recommend this book to anyone who enjoys stories with a bit of mystery, a few plot twists and lots of relationship drama. If you’ve read it, let me know what you thought in the comments below!