Random House AUS
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Katherine has lost almost everything. Her unborn child. Her husband. Her career. She’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness, told that she has no long left to live. Her body can no longer process food and absorb nutrients and so her organs are slowly shutting down. She has a few months left, maybe more if she’s lucky.
She seeks refuge and peace for the end of her life in a cabin in the wilderness that’s a 2 mile hike from the road. She takes only the bare essentials, leaving behind everything else from her life. The cabin is basic and surrounded by forest but Katherine still can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched or, as she sleeps at night, that something is just outside her cabin, its breathing matching hers.
Danny is a returned veteran from the Vietnam war who had been squatting in the cabin until Katherine bought it. Now he’s retreated further up the hill to the crumbling mansion he calls Gatsby’s house but he watches over Katherine. He made a promise to himself, that he’d never hurt anyone else again, so he can’t go near her, he can’t touch her. But then a thunderstorm changes everything and when their worlds collide, it’s an explosion of passion and loss of control that could destroy them both.
This book is described as a love story but….for me, I’m not sure I’d agree with the term. Obsession? Yes. Distraction? Absolutely. But love? I’m honestly not sure about that. I’m not even sure it’s really written to portray that – the way that it comes about doesn’t feel much like love at all.
This book is set in the 60s and whatever Katherine is suffering from, the doctors can give her no answers. She’s seen three and they’ve all given her the same depressing diagnosis. Her illness appears to be terminal, so Katherine decides to retreat from the world to a remote cabin where she will live out her last days in a very simple manner. On arriving, Katherine always feels like she’s being watched….because she is, as it later turns out.
Both of the characters are in very dark places. Katherine is just 38 and has lost everything she’s ever worked hard for and she’s been told that she’ll die probably in a matter of months. Danny is suffering from what would these days be classed as a sort of post traumatic stress disorder from the horrors he experienced in Vietnam. He has been living a solitary life as well, squatting in the cabin that Katherine is now living in. He often spends his days watching her and his nights just outside her cabin. When a thunderstorm triggers a need for human comfort, Danny bridges the gap between watching and…being.
I know that to judge Katherine’s actions, you have to at least attempt to put yourself into her place. She doesn’t believe she has very long to live. She’s on her own, has been living on her own for some time. She’s probably excruciatingly lonely, she’s grieving and she’s had plenty of time to think and regret. Danny as well, is traumatised and grieving and has also had plenty of time to think, regret and make promises to himself. They fall into a passionate sort of….affair? Relationship? None of these labels feel particularly accurate, to tell the truth. I’m not sure what it was they shared, it seemed to go deeper than both affair and relationship but yet it never felt like love. It felt like desperation expressed through an awful lot of sex. Like both of them were trying to live.
Whilst the writing is rather lovely and I did enjoy the comparisons to The Great Gatsby I have to say that I did have a lot of trouble connecting to the actual story itself. Katherine is abrasive and taciturn (probably not without reason) and Danny obviously, psychologically traumatised which means that their relationship for lack of a better term, doesn’t really evolve. They have sex, but apart from that there’s little else in the way of interaction other than some scenes which might really border on the disturbing. There’s a significant age gap between Katherine and Danny (some 18 or so years?) which did raise a lot of questions for me about Danny was really seeking, especially given his childhood and experiences overseas. Katherine as well obviously had issues revolving around children and loss and at times it seemed as though they were desperately trying to have the other fill a role that they needed, that they’d been denied in their lifetime, which only served to make their desperate sex scenes all the more awkward, especially when Danny relates a story from his childhood about breastfeeding.
When one character has been diagnosed with a fatal illness and the other bears heavy emotional and mental trauma it’s obvious you don’t hope for some sort of happy ending. Even with that knowledge, the ending lacked considerably for me. It felt somehow….idyllic and a bit glossed over as well as disappointing because of its lack of depth. I can’t really say I enjoyed this book – I did get briefly engaged during parts but for me, it actually fell apart after Danny and Katherine actually came face to face.
Book #82 of 2015