Em & Me by Beth Morrey was a delightful surprise. Not because I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. I certainly loved Morrey’s debut novel, Saving Missy… but my thrall here was because my reading of it came at exactly the right time. It was the feel-good book I didn’t know I needed. If that makes sense.
Before I started it I’d wondered if the blurb gave away too much and the book itself would have nothing left to proffer, but it wasn’t the case. Because though we do kinda know where this is going, I was very happy to travel along with Delphine and her daughter Emily and the assortment of family and friends they’ve gathered along the way.Em & Me
by Beth Morrey
Published by Harper Collins
Source: Harper Collins, NetGalley
Genres: General Fiction, Women's Fiction
Once upon a time, Delphine Jones had big dreams. Clever, beautiful and ambitious, she was going to get an education, travel the world, make her mark. But somewhere along the line, it all went wrong…
Now Delphine is a struggling single mum, serving coffee for a living, fishing coins out the back of the sofa to make ends meet. All she wants is a safe place for her and her daughter Em, yet nothing she does makes a difference.
But there is one thing she never gave up: hope.
When a brief reprieve from her daily grind forces her to look outwards, she begins to remember who she is and what she’s capable of. Her world opens up, offering new opportunities, adventures – even love – if only she can put the past behind her.
I adored Delphine. The book unfolds from her point of view in the present but she occasionally dips back into the past, reminiscing about her first boyfriend Adam. The pair were well-suited – high achieving students with a passion for English literature. Until – at 16 years of age – Delphine was forced to drop out of school when she became pregnant. And now, we discover 12 year old Em is following in her mother’s footsteps, albeit perhaps a more delightfully precocious and street smart version.
Morrey has given Delphine’s character further context as she lost her mother when she was around Em’s age and her father never recovered. He’s house-bound and has been since his wife died 15 (ish) years earlier. I think Morrey does a good job of portraying the broken man he’s become and appreciated she does so without judgement.
We meet Em and Delphine at a turning point in their lives. Particularly Delphine’s. I’m not sure that this is fate or kismet, rather it’s about people coming into our life at the right time. Or… perhaps it’s a reminder of the fact we need to be ready for change. (Or at least tired of being as we currently are.)
And this felt very real. As Delphine makes one change in her life, it precipitates others. I’m sure many of us know the feeling and it’s difficult to understand if it’s momentum or snippets of success that motivates us to make the changes we’ve longed to make.
Morrey introduces an array of support characters here including Em’s teacher (Roz) who encourages Delphine to consider a return to study. And through her she is reminded of her love of singing and the piano (and the potential of her youth more boradly). Roz also introduces her to an elderly woman looking for a companion to converse in French and the irascible Letty is a wonderful inclusion. I particularly loved her pragmatism and candour. (And weirdly this was the second book I’d read in a row to include smatterings of the French language!)
Of course it’s not all smooth sailing and we learn more about the events of Delphine’s childhood that continue to impact her life and causing regret and guilt.
I really enjoyed this new read by Morrey. It’s heartwarming but not cliched. We know what’s coming but it’s not predictable. The characters are delightful but not without faults and flaws. And bonus points…. lovers of literature will appreciate there are a lot of reference to popular and iconic classics.
Em & Me* by Beth Morrey was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
* published elsewhere as Delphine Jones Takes a Chance