Rating: 3 stars
Eliza is 23, and according to her father, “running the risk of ending up a spinster” in the summer of 1999; she has met and rejected six possible matches, an unacceptably large number. Her mother is growing increasingly despairing of her wayward child until Eliza agrees to meet 28-year-old Nathan, whose grandfather was close friends with Eliza’s beloved grandfather Zaida, and their families are delighted when Eliza and Nathan become an engaged couple just six weeks later. However, within a month fate throws a spanner in the works when Eliza meets handsome Alex through work, and they are instantly deeply attracted to each other.
The action in this book spools back and forth between 1999/2000 and spring 2016. The instant attraction between Eliza and Alex spins her world out of control and, on the morning of her intended marriage with Nathan, she runs away with Alex. In any family this would be a cause of major problems, putting it mildly, but Eliza Bloom is from an extremely conventional Orthodox Jewish family, and has lived her life by an entirely different set of conventions and rules from most young women in London at the turn of the millennium. Her father declares her dead to him and refuses to acknowledge that she is still his daughter, and most of her friends and family follow suit; only her younger brother Dov contacts her to let her know that Zaida is in a care home, having accidentally set fire to his annexe in the family’s home.
I’ve loved Beth Miller’s previous books, but struggled with this one. Because the upbringing of Aliza (to use her original name) has been so different from that of most people, there clearly has to be an explanation of the customs she has grown up with and accepted as essential. I found her capitulation to Alex’s charm and appeal a little hard to credit, as I did his making lists of things she needs to try in “his world”. What I found hard to accept was not her acceptance of the lists, which were constantly pushing the boundaries of what she would do (she’d grown up in a world where nearly everything was tightly controlled, after all), but his making of the lists and desire to push her beyond her lifelong limits of acceptability and desirability. I found it hard to like Alex and believe in their relationship, or to get any sort of feeling for what his and Eliza’s daughter was like. Eliza’s relationships with her family members were well drawn, as was the uncomfortable situation in which she found herself with her best friend, but because of my difficulties with the main characters, I found it really not the ‘feel-good’, ‘laugh-out-loud’ read that so many others have described it as being.
I really wanted to love it as much as I loved Beth Miller’s earlier books, but overall, though it felt like an interesting novel, it was sadly not one I warmed to. I’m sure plenty of other readers and reviewers will feel exactly the opposite, and also feel it’s a very relevant book for our times, so I would encourage everyone to give it a go and make their own decisions about it.
Reviewed by Daisy