All I Ever Wanted is the sixth book by British writer Lucy Dillon, who has won two awards for her romantic novels Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts and A Hundred Pieces of Me. Now, I don’t usually read a lot of romantic novels, so I wasn’t familiar with Dillon’s work (this seems to be happening to me a lot lately, the book I am currently reading is also by an author I am not familiar with) but I have to say I was truly charmed by this novel. But as usual, beware of possible spoilers, even though I try to keep them to avoid them.
Caitlin and Patrick are going through a separation. She is tired of his need for total control, timetables and he… well, she doesn’t know why he doesn’t want to continue with their marriage. With a child from a previous relationship and their four year old daughter, Patrick and Caitlin try to find the best way to resolve their divorce amicably. Patrick works far away though, so they agree to arrange visitation at Eva’s house, Patrick’s sister. But as their separation advances, Nancy talks less and less until she is unable to say a word to anybody, except for Eva’s pug, Bumble. Eva, however, doesn’t feel ready to include her nephew and niece into her solitary life, especially after the death of her husband, the actor Michael Quinn. Through the narration, both Caitlin and Eva discover what they want from their new lives while dealing with Nancy’s selective mutism. As Eva and Nancy -and the pugs- get closer, they become capable -and ready- to share their secrets.
First of all, reading this novel was a vast improvement on style and prose to the previous book I had read. One could argue that they are completely different genres and that’s fair enough, but still, I feel I have got to know the characters well. Both Caitlin and Eva have defined, strong, voices. There aren’t many reactions or behaviours that feel out of character. As they evolve, so do their responses and it feels natural and well balanced with the story. Even the secondary characters, Patrick, Joel, Nancy, Alex, Anna and Lee, are well built, well thought and their personalities shine through the fragments of description and their dialogues.
The story is filled with details to pull at the heartstrings. You become involved in the characters’ destinies, especially Caitlin’s, Eva’s and Nancy’s. This is not a thriller, so there are not big cliffhangers or drastic plot twists, not even in their romantic involvements, and yet the novel keeps you turning pages. Ultimately, I didn’t care so much about whether Caitlin and Eva built a new relationship or not with the men in their lives as much as about their growing friendship, together with the increasing closeness between Eva and Nancy.
I’m not going to lie though, I grew a bit tired of Caitlin. As her separation advances she behaves more and more like a teenager, devolving more than evolving, but I believe this is part of her journey as Dillon wanted it. Also, this is likely to be down to my own personal tastes and character. In any case, the more I read, the more interested I became in Eva and in what her story revealed about Patrick and, therefore, his issues with Caitlin during their marriage.
There are a number of details that are utterly charming through the story. The pugs have a definite character and made me feel an attachment unreasonable for two fictional dogs. Joel, with his hyperactivity, broke heart in his sense of responsibility for his sister and the vulnerability he tries to hide. Nancy, of course, becomes the center of concern and you get to know her through her mother’s eyes as opposed to her own acts, since she is not speaking. The episode with the bubbles is original (to me at least) and well crafted, eventually becoming key to the resolution of the story, at which point, you should be in tears, if you’re anything like myself (overly sensitive and/or a mummy).
I’ve given this story five stars to start with but I think it might be a reaction to the poorly written book I previously read, so I’ve downgraded it to a 4.5 because it’s still very good. Any fan of romantic novels, I believe, would enjoy this novel. The depth of the story and the characters are immersive, as well as the flow and beauty of the prose itself. A highly recommendable work from this author which has left me wanting to read more of her novels.
All I Ever Wanted will be available on 1st of December 2016.