Print Length: 400 pages
Publisher: Bantam Press
A debut novel by Emily Houghton, Before I Saw You makes sure that you have few (or more) tears in your eyes and believe why love can heal and break in this heart-warming and wrenching story of two adults who find their world turned upside down after a major accident. It also shows how they build ways to connect in a hospital ward. Yes—hospital, death, pain, kindness, love, healing, and more is what you get blended with humour and courage in this book.
The book starts with Alice Gunnersley, a character that conceals more than what she very carefully has orchestrated to show the world—workaholic, very few (but best) friends, least bothered about socialising with people outside of work. All this is put on halt for her to reflect deeply when one day she wakes up in Moira Gladstone Ward at St. Francis’s hospital, London. She realises that the entire left part of her body is burned in a fire accident. And seeing her damaged face is the last thing she wants to accept about herself. Now meet Alfie Mack, a happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, and amicable personality who is a long-term resident in the same hospital ward. It is difficult to hate this person since he takes it on him to make others happy like a job. The ghastly event that he was involved in took away a limb, but it is not the disability that keeps him bothered as much as the uncontrollable flashbacks of the accident.
The characters with their emotions, actions and thoughts were written effortlessly. However, the secondary characters like Nurse Angles (aka Mother Angel), Sarah (Alice’s best friend), Mr P (another resident in the same ward) and Alfie’s darling parents bring so much more to the storyline. There is one awful person in the story. Ah, the ice she can pierce with words! Though the themes of accident, death, pain, and recovery might make you think this is a complete sob and grim story, it still stood out to be delightful due to stark personalities and their witty conversations. I loved how the emotions were explored and one can almost relate to the feeling of adjusting into a new space like a hospital ward, making friends and caring for them like your own family. Whether it is Alice trying to acknowledge the reality of her physical damage that has completely shattered her confidence, or Alfie getting to terms with his loss of a limb and his dear ones; pain indeed has bought those characters to share their innermost struggles as neighbours only separated by two beds and a curtain. They never see each other’s face, as Alice is petrified of what others may think of her when they see her burnt self. She keeps herself behind the close confines of the curtain at all times in the ward.
Since this book is set in a hospital, you may find the author has taken the artistic freedom to make a few things less than believable at times. For example, how close the beds of Alfie and Alice are placed that they end up holding hands together; the curtains were always closed for others when Alice had to get out of her bed so no one could take a glimpse of her. Did it make me think about Fault in Our Stars? A little. Also, if you are a hard-core romance reader, chances are you may find this book exhausting because it is a slow burn with the least romantic actions involved. Overall, I am glad to read this book because it sincerely made me tear up at moments when Alice and Alfie get vulnerable with each other. Plus the ending is nice, though it felt like the wrap-up was quick. And god bless Nurse Angles, for it is she who is the most loved character in this book.
“Our scars are simply the marks of our stories. They show we’ve lived our life, and most of all that we have survived it. Don’t hide your story away in the shadows”
Ratings on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being exceptional):
Quality of writing – 7.5
Pace – 7
Plot development – 7
Characters – 8
Enjoyability – 8
Insightfulness – 7
Ease of reading – 9
Photo/Illustrations – NA
Buy your copy – Before I Saw You
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