This is Joanne Tracey’s fourth book and a bit of a departure from her loosely linked series which are more centred around romance with lead characters in their 20s and 30s… although a couple of characters readers met in the last novel in that series (Wish You Were Here) appear briefly here – and I appreciated them dropping in and the sense of familiarity they brought with them.
And I know Tracey’s still working on the next books in that series, but recall her saying that this story (and these characters) popped into her head and she needed to commit them to paper before they disappeared and I’m certainly glad she did as this is my favourite of her books to date.
Happy Ever After
by Joanne Tracey
Published by Self-published
on November 17th 2018
Genres: Women's Fiction
Kate and Neil met at a protest march in Sydney in August 1985 – Kate was marching, Neil wasn’t. It was love almost at first sight.
Over thirty years have passed, their children have grown, and Kate and Neil have gone from being happily married to being happily separated. That is until Neil asks for a divorce – and another wedding brings up feelings they’d both thought were long gone.
Kate and Neil fall in love all over again, but the repercussions are unexpected and far-reaching. Will Kate be able to overcome a whole new set of challenges to find her happy ever after?
When we meet Kate (Katie) she and not-quite-ex-husband Neil have been separated for four years. It’s all very amicable though Neil’s moved on and is now with Vanessa, a couple of decades younger than his 55 years. Neil and Kate remain close and he spends time on weekend mowing her lawn and doing odd jobs and, for the sake of her family and continued close friendship with Neil, Kate welcomes Vanessa into the family fold.
That is until Neil asks for a divorce. I must admit I was a bit surprised that Kate was so shocked. Her brother Lachie nailed my reaction…
You mean the years of separation and living with another woman didn’t give you a hint?
Her response seemed irrational to me given that the painful break had already taken place four years earlier, but having said that… I’ve not been married, so I don’t get the ‘piece of paper’ thing which might be far more final.
I should also mention, on further pondering later, Kate realises she’s still been in love with Neil all of that time (despite her sense of complacency / boredom during the last few years of their marriage) and there’d been a vague assumption they’d get back together.
Making matters worse of course is that Vanessa’s pushing for the divorce and overly interested in the financial settlement. Also interesting to me was that, though Kate includes her in family stuff, she’s not seen as Neil’s partner in any financial discussions – Kate (and Neil) resolutely telling Vanessa that the arrangements are none of her business.
Of course this all happens as Kate and Neil’s daughter (Ash) is getting married and a mix of ‘romance in the air’ and the definitive nature of divorce means that Kate and Neil are very much confronted with the end of their marriage (even though it actually ended four years earlier). And… well… they finally have discussions they should have had 4-5 years earlier. (And, as the blurb indicates, that flame is rekindled….)
Tracey takes us back in time and we learn how Kate and Neil first met and that they were (perhaps have always been) kinda mismatched. They fell in love nonetheless. And – despite a few hiccups – stayed together for 30 years. Until Neil went on a navel-gazing mountain-climbing trip and decided the pair should separate.
I found it interesting that Kate very much blames Neil for that, despite telling us that she had been unhappy and unfulfilled. Since the initial separation though they seem to have become best friends and she’s kinda happy with that. Until Neil asks for the divorce.
Kate’s victim-like behaviour annoyed me at times through the first two-thirds of the novel. Because we’re in her head we know she’s far from blameless for the end of her marriage but it’s only occasionally she ponders the part she played. Instead she rues decisions made 30+ years earlier and the fact she’s put her life on hold for her husband and family.
She talked about not being able to return to the workforce until her children (now mid twenties and early thirties) left school but I wondered why she hadn’t returned while they were at school. I mean, I’m not one to judge someone’s decision to stay at home, but if she was so unhappy with the situation I wondered why she didn’t return to study or the workforce sooner.
And I should note I’m not criticising Tracey’s take on Kate’s life. In fact, it’s a positive that I’m thinking of Kate as if she was a real person (who frustrated me and whose behaviour I’m questioning; as if she’s someone I know) but also that there’s a sense that Kate’s lack of contentment came later and perhaps isn’t something she can blame the lack of career or marriage on, but might have been inevitable. (And yes, like I said… I’m over-analysing Kate as if she’s a real person!)
I loved Tracey’s support cast (well except for Vanessa obviously, cos she was pretty much a bitch). And I think the reason I love this the most of her books (to date) is because they all felt very very real and relatable. These were people I could know. And do know. The relationships: Kate and Neil’s with their two children, with Neil’s parents, Kate’s friends and sibling were all ones I could imagine. They felt natural.
I loved that Tracey cast 50-somethings as her main characters and very normal ones at that… those struggling with work redundancies and questions about purpose and legacies. And I like her take that romance and sex in middle age reflects less of the game-playing and more cutting-to-the-chase.
My favourite part of the book was the final third or so, when Kate goes on her own navel-gazing trip to New Zealand. It’s something she decides to do because she wants her own ah-ha moment, but by the time she goes things have changed. She’s not playing the victim as much and struggling with guilt. And Tracey does a wonderful job of having Kate confronted by her own role in the breakdown of her marriage. There’s also a sense that Kate’s own memories / thoughts on marriage and life since, don’t entirely reflect reality. And we can certainly all relate to that!
I know Tracey has been on treks (tramps as they’re called in NZ) and know she felt very confronted on one she did and so she really nails the scenes with Kate on that trip. And of course, her knowledge of the area and surrounds pays off as we’re transported to the locations of the ‘walk’ and I know she’s recently shared some of the detail (of places and flora and fauna and stuff) on her website.
This book was very raw in parts and I cried quite a bit in the last third as it’s hard not to become invested in the unfolding story. It’s very real and I think parts would be quite confronting for those in relationships.
Tracey’s writing is really accessible and I know that sounds wanky but it’s conversational as if it comes easily. A few phrases and quotes that jumped out (such as Kate referring to her negative internal thoughts as squatters!) and some so subtly (matter-of-fact-ly) expressed I had to stop to process them….
My father was like most fathers of that generation – useless in the kitchen but okay around a naked flame as long as the ingredients were provided to him in the order in which they needed to be cremated.
Happy Ever After by Joanne Tracey is available electronically via Amazon.