Right off the bat, I will tell you that I rated this book 3 stars not because it was written badly (I really enjoyed the writing), but because I do not agree with the message, and the message that the book sends is an integral part of any novel. So there’s that. But otherwise, I read it in one day, so it kept my attention! Haha.
Ms. Smith is also author of Windfall, which I really adored. I believe this is one of her more popular books, and the interesting thing is that the first quarter entirely takes place within an airplane. It follows the story of Hadley, a young woman whose family is torn apart, and Oliver, a young man whose family is torn apart. Both of them are headed to London, the land of torn-apart families.
Hadley’s struggle is based on the contentious relationship she has with her father, a professor who spent four months in London only to fall in love with a woman there, have an affair, and abandon their family. Hadley is on her way to her father’s wedding to his second wife, all at the encouragement of her mother (who is the strongest woman in this book). She’s clearly struggling from both having to watch her father form a new life and also due to her claustrophobia, and the tiny space of the airplane.
Luckily, she bumps into a young man named Oliver, who’s on the same plane and her seat partner. Oliver is a native Britisher and returning home for some ~mysterious~ event. He and Hadley quickly hit it off and the book cycles through both Hadley’s past and her present, with Oliver. She and Oliver discuss their screwed up families, their hopes for the future, the animated duck movie that’s playing on the flight. Lots of things.
So there were a lot of things I enjoyed about the book. It’s written in third person omniscient, which is always a good perspective. Oliver is a well-developed character rather than a meaningless plot device. Hadley’s rumination over the breaking of her family and her emotions are written very poignantly, so you can really empathize with her. Ms. Smith manages to craft an engaging narrative that takes place entirely within the tiny confines of a plane, and not only that, but she also manages to weave a love story that takes place over 24 hours and doesn’t seem ridiculous or contrived.
The message of this book, as I interpreted it, is “You can’t help who you fall in love with.”
At least, that is the philosophy that Hadley’s father lives by, and excuse my language but it’s complete bullshit. You can absolutely help who you fall in love with. The trick is to – it’s crazy, I know – remain faithful. If you really love someone and want to make them happy forever, the first step is to take yourself off the market. Don’t return flirtations. Don’t engage in romantic tomfoolery with someone other than your partner. You can still check people out and find people other than your partner attractive – that’s only human nature – but there is a distinct line between admiring someone from afar and engaging in an affair. Hadley’s father, “The Professor” (whose name I didn’t even bother to remember because he and people like him disgust me) has the impulse control of a three year old. For all of his intelligence and worldliness, he is a selfish, spoiled, and utterly unapologetic asshole. He ruins their family by falling in love and having an affair with a woman he’s known for four months. That’s twenty years of marriage down the drain. He excuses himself with “you can’t help who you fall in love with.”
Really, man? Because I think that’s just a half-assed excuse from someone who checked out of their marriage as soon as he could put some distance between himself and his family. He didn’t have to deal with the consequences of his actions immediately and so, like the miserable excuse for a father and a husband that he is, he feels fine pursuing a relationship with this British woman.
And Charlotte. 😡
Charlotte made no sense to me. There’s no sense of apology about her, like, oh sorry Hadley, I know I took part in breaking your family to pieces and I hate that this is how it happened but I’ll give you time to come to terms with it on your own. No. Charlotte immediately tries to drag Hadley into her new, fucked up family. Excuse me again. I have no patience or sympathy for cheaters or “other” people. Other women, other men, whatever.
Obviously, it’s not Charlotte’s fault that Hadley’s father cheated on her. But I’m assuming she found out at some point that the dude was married and decided, anyways, that hey! This is fine. It’s okay if you completely tear a family apart because they’re all the way across the ocean! One phone call and it’s over. These guys piss me off to no end.
Also everyone treats Hadley like a kid but expects her to take this tragic news like an adult. She’s not allowed to choose for herself whether to go to the wedding or not, nor is she allowed to make her own decisions regarding how she feels about her father abandoning their family, but at the same time her mother forces her to attend the ceremony and encourages her to act cordial because “suck it up”??
I’m kind of tired of talking about this, so moving on.
Overall, I actually did enjoy the plot and the characters. The only thing that annoyed me was the take on love and forgiveness. I think Hadley was absolutely justified in her reaction to the shattering of her parents’ marriage and the invitation to her father’s wedding. I think it was a pretty realistic, though depressing, take on marriage and infidelity within a family. And on a last note, I fully expect Hadley’s father to get tired of Charlotte in a few years. If they’ll cheat with you, they’ll cheat on you.
If you like fluffy romance and introspection, and maybe a hint of misery, I would encourage you to check this book out.