This is my second festive novel of the year although it doesn’t feature Christmas prominently, but the story is set in winter and there is a Christmas Market, so it’s definitely in the air.
Isabelle Broom, yet a new author for me. I am starting to enjoy this getting to know more and more writers. It is also a sign that there are more books in the world than I will ever have time to read. If there ever was a good reason to seek immortality…
Isabelle Broom is an editor and writer in London but she has travelled extensively during her life. It will come to no surprise, then, that her novels are set in foreign lands. Her previous novel, A Map of You, was set in Greece. A Year and a Day is set in the beautiful city of Prague.
The story begins with a very gloomy scene where the characters remain unnamed. As you continue reading and learn about the three women who you will follow through the streets of Prague, you wonder which one was the one standing at the bridge, looking down into the water.
Megan is a photographer with a lot of ambition. She has a dream, but only now is she giving her hundred percent to achieve it and that means no distractions. No distractions means no men, which is why Ollie and she are only friends. Where Ollie’s feelings for Megan are straightforward, Megan’s heart is a mess of strings that will need unravelled as they both explore the sights of the city.
Hope is a recently separated woman living with her current partner. Their relationship is young and didn’t start in the best of ways. Her daughter is not talking to her because of it and Hope is not dealing with it very well. Charlie, charming as he always is, surprises her with a trip to Prague. Over hot wine and struddle, she will have to figure out if going from her husband to this new man is what she really wants.
Sophie is small and elfish. Her and Robin, her fiance, have been all around the world, but Prague was where they met and they return to it often. She relives their experiences together, visiting their old favourite places, while she waits for Robin to join her at the end of the week.
At first, you wonder who was the girl on the bridge and, as you get to know the characters, you wonder who it will be, at then end, who will contemplate the waters of the river Vltava but you soon forget about that, transported by the stories of these characters and the romanticism of the setting. Still, there is, all along, a sense of impending catastrophe which makes your heart quicken.
The one all-seeing character of the story is Prague. Broom descriptions of the city are detailed and delicate. I couldn’t help but feel cold when she portrayed the snow in the streets and the crispness of the air, but that helped feel the relief of the goulash, hot wines and grogs. Prague becomes the omniscient witness of the adventures of the five characters. I almost felt I watched the characters from the city’s point of view, even though the story is narrated in first-person.
There is also a theme running through the story. In different ways, each woman is struggling with the same idea. Who are they when they are without a man? How do the men in their lives affect who they are and their ambitions? For Megan, a man seems to be a distraction. For Hope, who has never been independent, Charlie might be a barrier to discovering what she really wants to do. Sophie is in a different boat, she hasn’t been anywhere without Robin for a long time. Facing several days on her own, she finds it difficult to cope. This underlying theme of female independence feels extremely important to me and prevalent, now that more and more people remain single and that the way we think about women is changing. What is the role of the woman to be when she is not a wife or a mother? What about what women want outside of a relationship? More importantly, can a woman have it all?
I thoroughly enjoyed the story. There was a fluidity to the prose and although I feel like the description was very detailed, at no point did it become overwhelming nor did it slow the action. The characters are very real, human, as they have their pros and cons and you find yourself disagreeing with their actions or point of views sometimes. But most of all, the beauty of it lies in how it’s set against a background of romantic buildings and landscape. Still, catastrophe was promised and not even the fascination of the setting can spare us the nerves of what will happen.
Best romantic novel I’ve read in some time. I am tempted to visit Prague myself! One thing I will do for sure is get a copy of this author’s previous novel. Don’t miss this one!