Ever After by Kate Eberlen: funny, clever, humane and full of surprises – book review –

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‘Falling in love is only the beginning of the story...’

If the summer holidays are beckoning, you’re almost beach ready, and looking for a beautiful, soul-searching romance to pack between the frocks and suntan cream, Kate Eberlen’s dazzling new novel is guaranteed to break your heart and put it back together again.

An intense and powerfully emotional love story, set against the starkly different backdrops of breathtaking Italy and busy, cosmopolitan London, Ever After is an enchanting and inspirational exploration of two thirty-somethings brought together by ‘serendipity’ rather than ‘destiny.’

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At its beating heart are nail salon manager Tess and hospital doctor Gus... an unlikely pairing but, in a classic case of opposites attract, find themselves falling truly, madly, deeply in love at (almost) first sight one summer amidst the dazzling, sunlit magnificence of Florence.

Ever After by Kate EberlenEver After by Kate Eberlen
Ever After by Kate Eberlen

Like their backgrounds, their past histories, their work and their friendships, their journey is often miles apart, chequered, painful and unconventional, and however strong their love may be, life will throw up hazards that may, or may not, take them on different roads.

Love isn’t always a fairy tale and even when she was just a child, Tess doubted the veracity of two people being destined to live ‘happily ever after’ when they’ve only just met. But when she gets her first sight of Gus one sun-drenched morning in Florence, it really does feel as if fate has brought them together.

Both aged 34, both holidaying alone, and both living at the (albeit very different) ends of the same London street, it soon turns out that their lives have unknowingly ‘brushed past each other’ several times before and that they have both suffered family deaths which have brought them terrible grief.

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But there is also a chasm between them in terms of their current lives... public school-educated Gus – a frustrated artist – is materially far better off than state school-educated Tess but he is a troubled man and far less contented than Tess who enjoys managing her best friend’s bustling nail salon even though she dreams of being an author.

And neither of them expected to feel ‘a magnetic pull’ to each other at first sight, an attraction that ‘might make them inseparable if they were to move a millimetre closer.’ It’s the start of a whirlwind love affair which they swear will continue when they return to London and real life.

For the first time Gus feels like he’s ‘engaging with the world, not just observing it from a distance.’ As for Tess, their relationship is like a fairy tale but is it just an illusion... unsustainable outside the landscape of Italy?

On their return to rainy London, only time – and Gus never knew how precious time was until he met Tess – will tell if they are strong enough to survive the challenges of their complicated lives. And is it even possible for two such different people to live happily ever after?

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Eberlen is an exquisitely sensitive writer and it is rare to find such perfectly drawn and imagined characters as Tess and Gus. Their lives – present and past – unfold with delightful authenticity, and their relationship is examined with all the wisdom, humour and tenderness that we have come to expect from this perceptive author.

With a bittersweet thread running right through is soft centre, Ever After offers not just an achingly beautiful love affair between two irresistible people, but an uplifting and deeply reassuring affirmation of life and how we cope with its inevitable slings and arrows.

Funny, clever, humane and full of surprises, this is the perfect read for those (hopefully!) long summer days ahead...

(Orion, paperback, £8.99)

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