Rachel is not having a good time in her marriage, her husband is distant and she suspects he actively avoids contact with her, but when her daughter leaves for college things take a sudden turn for the worse.
Brad, feeling his own responsibilities leaving along with his daughter, decides to fly the nest himself, and asks Rachel for a divorce. The breakup is a bad one, Brad suddenly showing a cruelty she had not previously encountered from him.
Alone, with no plan or prospects, Rachel turns to a new friend for support, and she finds herself on a journey of self discovery, following a chain of events that reveals secrets and heals wounds.
I’ve never before read a book that could be considered a “romance novel”. If you look through my list of Audible reviews you’ll see nothing like Coming About in there, and the absence of such a book in there is a good microcosm of my reading habits.
Nope, never read a romance novel before, and never thought of reading one.
So why did I read this one? You may ask.
Well I read a previous novel performed by Kristina Rothe, and in speaking to her regarding it she mentioned this book, and offered me a copy to review. So I agreed to read it in exchange for a review.
I won’t lie, it took me a while to get to it.
One day, I’m not sure why, I thought I’d listen to a few minutes of it, as an experiment I’d guess. Just to see how it would land in the mass of undergrowth that serves me for a mind, and – oddly – it managed to land in a small clearing instead of some overgrown bit of wasteland where it would be forgotten.
Instantly I felt a warmth from the story, a warmth not just attributable to Kristina Rothe’s voice. The book’s lead – Rachel – is an imperfect heroine, sometimes a rather irritating one if I’m honest, but there’s a realism to her that I recognised. I think we probably all know a woman like Rachel, though we may not realize it. She might be too wrapped up in her daily chores, or comfortable in a life that has become more a plateau than a peak, but the Rachel we know is probably only one bad day away from the Rachel of Coming About.
Rachel often falls into self examination that can be somewhat self-absorbed, she seems to see herself as someone to whom things are done rather than a character with autonomy. At times I could understand her husband’s irritation with her. Though it was laudable of her to raise her daughter with complete single mindedness, she had neglected her own growth in the process, but this was a choice she had made that would inevitably have consequences to her own autonomy as well as her marriage.
As she begins to see this in herself I found it interesting that she could not see that her husband would probably have similar issues, but unfortunately Brad’s character isn’t examined at all in the book. He is presented as a villain of almost Bond movie proportions. While Rachel could see the sacrifices of other people around her she could see no such nobility in Brad. This – I think – was a flaw in the book. Perhaps because I am a man, who is probably much the same age as Brad, I was taken back a little by what I saw as Rachel’s self-entitlement. She could lament the loss of the house he had purchased and the money he had brought into the family, but not appreciate the sacrifices he had made to provide these things.
Don’t get me wrong, Brad is not a nice man at all, but even this seems a little off. It is presented that he takes the opportunity for his daughter going to college to leave his wife, but why would this matter? If he was planning to stop college payments anyway, it seems counterproductive for him to wait so long.
Of course the real reason all this happens is that the author needs him out of the picture so Rachel can have no burdens, so SHE can escape the nest unhindered. The irony being that Brad has to desire the very same things that the author intends to write for Rachel, in order to release Rachel from the familial burdens to pursue them.
I have to say I was grinning a lot during that particular chapter, there seemed to be a lot of projection going on through Rachel at that point.
Once Brad is out of the way, and Rachel is free of her family, she follows a path of creative self-discovery. In Rachel’s case this is photography, and this is where she meets her best-friend-to-be Sophie.
Sophie is a character much like Rachel, perhaps a little further down the road of self discovery, but still very much traveling it. She is rough around the edges in all the right ways. Brash and sometimes inappropriate in what she says. In short, she’s the friend most people would want, and it’s through Rachels’ adventures with this new friend that she meets Charlie Sinclair, a man she once knew from deep in her past.
This is where the love story begins, and there are many things about it that are appealing. The characters are older in years, and there is something of a return to their youth as they discover this romance is an option for them. Charlie is exactly as you’d imagine a man in a romance novel to be, and – initially – I couldn’t relate to him all that much. But, even from a male perspective he is likable, a little too idealized perhaps, but this is a romance novel so I suppose that’s to be expected. There were moments when I cringed, there were other moments where I squirmed a little in discomfort, but – in fairness – I’ve never read a romance novel before, so it’s all a little new to me.
Oddly I began to relate to Charlie far better than I’d have thought. The idea that I could relate to a male romantic lead makes me feel very uncomfortable, but let’s be honest, we’ve all been there at some point in our lives, and as much as many men sneer at the “mushy stuff” we’ve all perpetrated it at some point.
Though – thankfully – I found that I was disappointed in him when they found themselves fully clothed after their first night together, so I’m glad to report that I still have some testosterone left in me.
There are no great surprises to be had in Coming About, there are twists and turns, and it keeps the reader’s interest right to the end, but I imagine it’s not the best example of the genre. Some of the writing is a little clunky, and there were the aforementioned issues with the character of Brad, but despite this I did find that I liked it.
Much of my enjoyment of the piece is undeniably due to Kristina Rothe’s performance. She has a voice that is easy on the ear, and she displays more than enough skill to bring the characters to life while not overloading her performance. As much as I liked the book I’m not sure I’d have gotten through some of the book’s more uneven moments without her help.
Coming About was an interesting introduction to the romance novel genre, and though I have reservations about it I did think it was an enjoyable novel that sped by pretty quickly. There’s not a lot of dead air in there, and there’s enough going on to keep the reader’s interest. Mostly it’s rather a sweet story, it’s only when it deals with Brad’s character that it becomes something that I can only describe as mean-spirited, always presenting him as a grotesque caricature.
Thankfully these moments are few and far between, and the vast majority of the book focuses on things that are much more fulfilling. In these moments Jan Tilley creates a tale that I really enjoyed, and I think a more even-handed approach to Brad would have improved the novel immeasurably.
There is a second novel in the series, Jasper’s Gift, named after a character who leaves a lasting impression from the first book, and I have to admit some interest in reading this one too. So maybe, in the future, I might not be so dismissive of the genre, and for that I thank Jan Tilley and her novel Coming About, and – of course – that audio gem named Kristina Rothe.