One Step Too Far
Penguin Books AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Emily is running away from her life. She’s leaving behind her home, her husband, her family – everything. She becomes a new person with a new name and no attachments, commitments or responsibilities. She finds a place to stay in a share house in north London and a job temping. She makes a friend in Angel, another woman in the share house and she steadfastly refuses to think about her old life, how her husband must be feeling and more importantly, the tragedy that led to her fleeing without a word.
Now known as Cat, she moves in entirely different circles to her former life. With Angel she finds herself drawn into a heading world of shopping and partying and as she moves up the chain in her new found job, she needs a little more recreational help to get her through the day. Always looming, getting ever closer is the anniversary of the day her life splintered apart, changed forever and even this new Cat hasn’t worked out quite how to cope with it yet.
Eventually Cat has spiraled down so far, some of it not of her own fault but all that is left is the bottom and it allows all she has run from to come looking for her. Her secret will be out and she will have to face the things she ran from head on and see where there is left for her.
Emily Coleman had everything going for her. She was married to a wonderful man named Ben whom she loved very much and who loved her. They had a beautiful baby boy and Emily had just found out that she was expecting again. And then something happened that made Emily walk out, away from her life without a word. From there she is lucky to find somewhere to stay although it’s a world away from her former home – a share house where everything that isn’t the kitchen or the bathroom is a bedroom, rented out. The conditions are somewhat less than ideal but she immediately makes changes to make the room more comfortable and is out looking for a job, despite the fact that her CV is totally made up. She can’t go back into the field she was working in before – it would be far too easy for her to be discovered that way.
The narrative flashes back and forth with Emily/Cat in the present day, fleeing her life and making a new one interspersed with her memories of the ‘before’ (ie before the terrible thing happened). We see how she met her husband, get glimpses of their courtship and wedding and peek in as they make their life together in a new house. There’s also a lot devoted to Emily’s family, which is somewhat troubled. Emily has a twin sister who has had some difficulties and her parents have had issues in their marriage too. The back story is carefully and meticulously revealed but with deceptions as well. Many times I thought that I had worked out what had happened to send Emily running but I was wrong every single time. We are also at times privy to her husband Ben’s thoughts as well and how he has coped since she left.
For a lot of this story, I was utterly engrossed and couldn’t wait for the big reveal so that I’d finally know what had happened to tear her apart so much and led to her decision to turn her back on everything and attempt to start over again in such a way. However I do feel like it began to lose its way a little, when Emily/Cat ends up by accident in this new career and begins partying and meeting men who fall in love with her or want to be with her. I can understand why she’d turn to some of the methods she did – it enables her to keep memories at bay and keeps her functioning, or at least appearing to. However what really interested me was Emily’s state of mind and the circumstances surrounding what caused her to leave and some of the events late in the book seemed to distract from that and edge a bit into far-fetched territory. I’m not sure why the book needed such a dramatic episode to enable her husband to locate her. I also thought the events of the book would’ve had more of an affect on her state of mind but that seemed to be very much glossed over – almost as if it happened to someone else and she wasn’t there. Perhaps that was a coping method but it did come off as quite cold and callous and had the effect of alienating me from Emily at a time when my sympathy for her should’ve been at its peak. Also the last part of the book is told in fits and starts that skip ahead in time and it has the feel of being a bit disjointed.
Despite that, One Step Too Far is a compelling story of what does it take to push a woman who seemingly had everything to the edge and make her want to leave it all behind. I really enjoyed the guesswork, trying to figure out what had happened – I didn’t mind being wrong. In fact I think being wrong is good because it means the author did her job in keeping it a nicely shrouded mystery. Although she seemed remote at times, Emily was someone I wanted to get the help she needed and resolve her feelings over what had happened and try and find some sort of happiness again. What she had in her new life as ‘Cat’ wasn’t happiness. It was existing, and at times, poorly. But I understood her motivations and what drove her to leave in the end and I think that came across well.
Book #80 of 2014