“A compelling tale of our time” is how I summed up Anna Mansell’s new book to a friend.
That was only after I had spent the previous, what felt like, 30 minutes trying to relate just how gripping and powerful I found it using a lot more words – some of which I will share again now.
The Man I Loved Before is brilliantly written to the point it actually made me physically uncomfortable at times.
It doesn’t shy away from some difficult themes, in fact, it shines the brightest spotlight possible on them.
In places, it was almost like watching a car crash about to happen but being unable to look away.
At the same time, it also manages to be entertaining, funny in parts and even romantic.
Here’s the blurb:
‘Dear Ben, I can only write you this letter because I know you’ll never read it…’
When Jem writes to her ex Ben, it’s to explain everything. All the secrets she kept from him – from the little lies she’d sometimes tell about how new those shoes really were, or how many glasses of wine she’d had that evening… right up to The Big Thing that happened on the night that changed everything. But she never expects he will actually see what she’s written.
She is just writing because she thinks it will help to get the words out. Later, she resolves, she’ll burn the letter, and then the past will be in the past for good.
Because Jem is doing fine now. She’s busy: working, spending time with her best friend, and looking after her mother, who’s in remission from cancer. She’s even dating again and has just met a guy who she thinks she could actually fall for. At long last, Jem is really, definitely somewhere close to happy.
But her mum finds the letter and thinks she’s doing Jem a favour when she posts it to Ben. And Jem’s new, carefully rebuilt life begins to unravel in ways she could never have imagined. Then, when her mother gets ill again, she finds herself asking who has the key to her future. The man she’s falling in love with now? Or the man she loved before?
I don’t want to give away any of the more salient plot points but I will say it is perfectly paced. It also keeps you second guessing yourself – and even questioning things that have happened in your own life – right to the end.
After I finished I couldn’t pick up another book for a week because I found myself stuck in this story.
Jem is such an interesting character, it’s like she wants us to dislike her but it’s just not possible. Her best friend is definitely someone you’d want on your side and her mum is wonderful. There are some truly touching scenes between the two that made me want to give my own mum a big hug.
This book might not be for everyone but, if anything that’s a reflection on how GOOD the writing is – it just feels too real.
I don’t imagine it was easy to write – just as it’s not always easy to read – but the hard work has definitely paid off.
My rating: Five stars.
With thanks to Bookouture (via NetGalley) for the ARC in return for an honest review.