I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
About The Book
Nick and Anna work the same summer job at their local cinema. Anna is mysterious, beautiful, and from a very different world to Nick.
She’s grown up preparing for the end of days, in a tightly-controlled existence where Christmas, getting drunk and sex before marriage are all off-limits.
So when Nick comes into her life, Anna falls passionately in love. Their shared world burns with poetry and music, cigarettes and conversation – hints of the people they hope to become.
But Anna, on the cusp of adulthood, is afraid to give up everything she’s ever believed in, and everyone she’s ever loved. She walks away, and Nick doesn’t stop her.
Years later, a tragedy draws Anna back into Nick’s life.
Another Life by Jodie Chapman is an assured and confident debut novel about first love and family. It actually feels a little reductive saying that as it’s like saying the Great Wall of China is just a few bricks, because this book is about far, far more than that.
Nick and Anna meet in the heatwave of 2003 whilst working together at a cinema. She is beautiful and enigmatic, aloof without being unapproachable and she is almost other-worldly. She is a member of a religious ‘cult’ which is based upon Jehovah’s Witnesses (they are never directly named), and has a boyfriend who is currently in Australia. Their relationship is on hold for the time being and it is during this break that she meets Nick. Nick and she are like chalk and cheese, but their attraction is palpable and they begin a relationship, just for the summer, keeping it a secret from their gossipy colleagues.
This is an absolutely beautiful read which spans decades, taking us from their teenage relationship, to the present day and back in time to Nick’s difficult childhood. Chapman uses time in such a clever way, showing us one thing in the present and then a little while later taking us back or forward in time to show us a different perspective. It felt a little like a book version of This Is Us, with layers building upon one another allowing us to learn more about Nick’s past and illuminating the Nick we meet in the present.
Anna is unable to marry outside her religion without being looked down upon and unable to leave without losing her family. Nick knows this, he knows that she is a summer relationship, that at the end of the summer he has to let her go. But, ooof, that heady first love feeling. It is totally overpowering to him. It knocks him for six and despite loving her fiercely he has to let her go. Chapman puts us deep in the emotions taking place on the page. It would be easy for this to be a teen drama but this is so much more than that. The book is a battle between head and heart and the emotions are deep and complex.
As much an examination of complicated family relationships, dysfunction and trauma as it is an exploration of first love, Another Life is a deeply emotional read. Nick’s family background is complicated and the opening chapters give some indication of the weight of responsibility on his shoulders. His relationship with Anna, albeit brief, is light in a world which is quite dark and at times difficult to read.
At the centre of it all though is Anna’s deeply held religious beliefs. At the end of the book Chapman writes about being a Jehovah’s Witness herself and her choice to ultimately leave the religion. It cast an entirely new light on the book and although the novel is written from Nick’s point of view Anna is so well formed that we can see the battle raging inside her. Being brought up in such a way, believing certain things and living a life completely different to your contemporaries must be incredibly lonely and isolating. Her love for Nick challenges her beliefs and the way she sees the world and it is a huge and life changing thing for both of them.
This is such a wonderful book which since finishing I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. The characters are beautifully written with a clever narrative structure that I fell in love with. It delves deep into first love, difficult decisions and family loyalty. It isn’t an easy read, there are some sad and difficult moments but it is delicately and sympathetically written and Jodie Chapman is a writer to look out for.
Where You Can Buy It
My thanks to Michael Joseph for supplying me with a copy of the book via Netgalley.