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Review: Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac

on June 19, 2019

Messy, Wonderful Us
Catherine Isaac
Simon & Schuster
2019, 400p
Copy courtesy Simon & Schuster AUS

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

One morning in early summer, a man and woman wait to board a flight to Italy. 

Allie has lived a careful, focused existence. But now she has unexpectedly taken leave from her job as an academic research scientist to fly to a place she only recently heard about in a letter. Her father, Joe, doesn’t know the reason for her trip, and Allie can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s flying to Italy to unpick the truth about what her mother did all those years ago.

Beside her is her best friend since schooldays, Ed. He has just shocked everyone with a sudden separation from his wife, Julia. Allie hopes that a break will help him open up.

But the secrets that emerge as the sun beats down on Lake Garda and Liguria don’t merely concern her family’s tangled past. And the two friends are forced to confront questions about their own life-long relationship that are impossible to resolve.

Allie is celebrating a family dinner with her father and her deceased mother’s parents when a quick sneak into her grandmother’s bedroom to check something ends with her finding a letter and photo that shakes Allie’s whole world. It seems to suggest a possibility that her father, the man who has loved and raised her almost single handedly since her mother died when she was 6, may not be her biological father. Allie finds that this new information eats away at her – she confronts her grandmother who denies her claims and forbids Allie to speak of it again, particularly to her father or grandfather. Allie can’t let it go and so she tells her family she’s going on a holiday but really she’s going to track down the man that she feels may have the answers for her – and who may be her biological father.

With her is Ed, her best friend since school. Ed rode the Dotcom bubble but avoided the burst and is a successful and wealthy man who has been married to the beautiful Julia for a few years. Ed and Allie have managed to maintain their friendship throughout university years and various relationships and although she and Julia aren’t close they manage to get on quite well. When Ed leaves Julia with no warning, no reasoning, Julia turns to Allie to get to the bottom of the situation and see if she can, well, talk some sense into Ed and see what’s going on. To everyone else, their marriage seems perfect. Even Allie doesn’t know precisely what’s really going on in Ed’s life.

In Italy, it’s a chasing game. The information they have is minimal but luckily, Ed speaks Italian which makes their research a lot easier than if it were just Allie on her own. Ed is not his usual self – he’s distant, a bit off, unwilling to talk about what’s going on with him in his life, despite Allie’s gentle prodding. They end up on a bit of a trip down the rabbit hole, hopping from person to location based on flimsy bits of information and half directions. They face people who are suspicious of their motives in wanting to find this person but eventually they are able to track him down and Allie is able to ask questions and get the answers she seeks and learn the truth.

I enjoyed many aspects of this – I thought that the reveal that Allie’s father was potentially not was done well and her confused feelings after the fact. I liked her friendship with Ed, although it wasn’t shown in its best light in the current time because Ed was in such a strange place. And I liked what was going on with Ed, when it was revealed. I thought it was surprising and unexpected and handled very well, with sensitivity and also believability. For me, the best part of the book was the bit that was written in italics, which was an unnamed character not revealed for most of the story. I thought that was excellently done and although I ended up guessing it (I think you’re supposed to) it didn’t detract at all from the power of the execution and the impact of the choices (or lack thereof) women had during that time.

The trip to Italy I didn’t enjoy as much. It just felt a bit exhausting and like this wild goose chase trying to track down this person with not much information but enough to just be able to go on to the next person to ask or the next location only to be kind of stonewalled again. The dynamic between Ed and Allie in Italy is a bit weird too. They’re best friends – former school friends who have maintained that closeness. But Ed is also recently separated and it soon comes up that there’s a few complications in their past as well and it just felt a bit…..rushed and too much crammed in there. Too many complications going on between those two people without some being resolved. It left me with a bit of an uncomfortable feeling too, at how things developed. Also the overly dramatic ending felt out of place with the rest of the story and seemed to serve as a way for the author to sever a connection quickly and without having to actually detail it out.


Book #90 of 2019

5 responses to “Review: Messy, Wonderful Us by Catherine Isaac

  1. I initially wondered when I read the blurb for this if it was too similar to Paige Toon’s latest. The whole trip to Italy to look for/meet a biological father. From your review, it sounds a bit different, but I think I’ll still pass. It has that feel to it that I usually get annoyed about!

  2. It was a bit meh for me overall too. I agree the ending felt rushed and overdone.

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