Tuesday 12 February 2019

Book Review: When You Read This by Mary Adkins

When You Read This by Mary Adkins is a novel with an interesting format. The entire novel is written in email snippets between a variety of people. Adkins is a playwright and it feels a bit like reading a play - it isn't seamless reading, you have to stop and double check the sender and recipient of each email before you keep going. This does take a bit of getting used to but Adkins slips in some pretty great treats in there, spam from dating services and gambling sites are an accurate nod to the state of plenty of inboxes!

Iris is in her early 30s and dying of lung cancer. She writes on a website called Dying to Blog, where she finds comfort in others on a similar journey. She also works at a small and struggling brand management company as an assistant to her boss Smith.

A while after Iris has passed away, Smith hires a (quite hilarious) ambitious young intern called Carl who discovers his predecessor and determines that her blog should most definitely be published. Unfortunately the copyright to the blog lies with Iris's sister Jade, who isn't taking her death very well and refuses to hand over the rights.

Smith and Jade begin emailing each other and find solace in their common grief. They both have family baggage and this shapes a lot of their conversation, along with processing what Iris may have wanted them to do as they continue their lives without her.

This isn't a sad book, I found the email format takes away a lot of the emotion that you would get when you are in a characters head. But I don't think that detracts from the book at all, it just gives a different perspective, more like what we let others see. Or the fact that emails can be drafted, scrapped and rewritten so we can say what needs to be said rather than something spur of the moment.

The characters are full of emotion however, and the processing and decisions that are made in the wake of a death seem to be quite accurate. Smith worked with Iris for quite a long time and their friendship was quite unique. Jade helped Iris at the end and struggles with the fact that Iris didn't fight harder, and left big dreams behind. Carl is just a great point of difference when he pops up in the narrative and is so oblivious to most things.

I quite enjoyed this novel, even though it is different to what I would usually read. I don't think the blurb accurately conveys the plot but I did like what I read and the format makes it quite quick to get through. I think it concludes quickly but ties up the loose threads. I liked that the characters are more than a little flawed and that cancer and death are dealt with in a raw and real, but not soppy way.
It also highlights the journey that grief can take people through and that it can be something done separately or together at different stages.

When You Read This is published by Hachette and is available from February 12.

Thanks to Hachette for my review copy of this book!