A Place For Us by Harriet Evans

A Place For Us is published early next year and I feel safe telling you, it will be one of the best books of 2015.

That bit is a quote. It’s a quote from me from the end of this review. I’ve put it there because while I still agree with everything I’ve written in this post, I worry I’ve been a bit harsh. But I want you to read this review knowing that I really enjoyed it, and I think you will too.

About five months ago, I was given a proof copy of a book by Harriet Evans called A Place For Us – because I’m incredibly rubbish, I’ve only just got round to reading it.

I actually read it just before I read The Martian (still not entirely sure what to read next), which makes it fourth in a run of five books that I’ve really enjoyed.

A Place For Us begins with Martha Winter sending out invitations to her eightieth birthday party. She tells her family that she has an announcement, but as soon as the invitations are written, she starts to wonder if she’s doing the right thing.

At the same time her husband, an artist, is meeting up with a mysterious woman in London. Someone he hasn’t seen for a long time, and Martha doesn’t know he’s there.

If this story was a building – bear with me – it would be a pyramid, it builds and builds and builds right up to a central point (Martha’s announcement) and then barrels down from the peak to a slow stop on the other side.

Many books are a bit more like the Shard, in at the ground floor, then a journey straight up, that ends more or less, at the highest point.

At first, once you reach the peak of A Place For Us, about halfway through the book, you’re left wondering where you’re going to go next, but what Evans does is show us a perfect family, spread apart across the London, Paris and Florence, that comes together, blows apart at the centre of the book, and then slowly comes together again towards the end.

The story is told from various characters viewpoints throughout the book, but Martha is definitely the most engaging character of them all, at least until after the central point of the book, when her character changes.

This is intentionally unsettling, the issue is, none of the other characters are as engaging, and the reader ends up feeling a little lost in the second half of the book.

Two other characters stand out (apart from the oft-mentioned, rarely-seen Daisy) – they are Cat and Joe.

Joe’s viewpoint is rarely seen, and Cat is a great character, but diluted by her similarity to cousin Lucy. I can understand the inclusion of Lucy in the story, it adds a great symmetry to the story, but I’m not sure she deserves the prominence she gets. She is, at times, far to similar to Cat, and I wonder if the book would have been better without her viewpoint.

In addition, it’s a long book. Very readable, but maybe about a hundred pages too long.

I would have liked maybe a hundred fewer pages – it feels like it wanders at some points, and it could do with either cutting Lucy altogether, or investing in the characters of Cat, Joe, Karen and Florence much earlier on to give them all a bit more depth.

Having said all this, I really did enjoy the book. It started out high, dipped a bit, but rose again towards the end. It’s also a great book to think about in terms of how one writes a book. The structure and story are both fascinating, and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it for this review – maybe a bit more than I normally do.

It could have been phenomenal, but it just falls short of it. A Place For Us is published early next year and I feel safe telling you, it will be one of the best books of 2015.

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