Sophie Winter lives in a self-imposed cocoon – she’s a single, thirty-one year old translator who works from home in her one bedroom flat. This isn’t really the life she dreamed of, but then Sophie stopped believing in happy endings a very long time ago, when she was fifteen years old and tragedy struck her family. Her grief has left her scared of commitment and completely risk averse, so she plays it safe and keeps everyone at arm’s length. Sophie understands she has a problem, but recognising it and knowing how to fix it are two entirely different things.
One night a serious fire breaks out in the flat below hers. Sophie is trapped in the burning building until a random passer-by, Ben, luckily happens to spot and rescue her. Suddenly her cocoon is shattered – what will be the consequences of this second life-changing event?
‘IT’S ALWAYS THERE, THE FEAR. LIKE A GLIMMER AT THE EDGE OF YOUR VISION. WORRYING ABOUT IT IS EXHAUSTING, BUT I CAN’T SEEM TO STOP DOING IT. I CLOSE MY EYES, AND IT’S THERE WHEN I WAKE UP AGAIN’ THIS TIME I DID LAUGH, BUT THERE WAS NO REAL HUMOUR IN IT. ‘IT’S THE NIGHTMARE THAT JUST KEEPS ON GIVING.’
As you can see from the two photos above that I already had pre-saved on my phone and the varying decor behind the novel depicting two totally different holidays
(Valentine’s Day and Christmas for those still guessing), Dani Atkins’ This Love has been sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time. I would hazard a guess that the 7 night stay in the Maldives advertised on the front cover sticker is also no longer valid so don’t all flock to Simon & Schuster at once!
After the ridiculous amount of time it took for me to finally get around to reading This Love, I’m slightly annoyed that I didn’t pick it up sooner. I started the book not really knowing what to expect as the blurb is a little vague so the only thing I was sure about was its promise of a disastrous fire that robs our heroine of everything she’s come to find comfort in and a lot of grief. This Love definitely did not disappoint.
It’s one of those stories where you don’t realise how immersed you are in the characters and the lives they’re living until Atkins throws spanner after spanner in the works and you’re left feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut. I hadn’t even registered how quickly I’d raced through This Love until I reached the final few pages where I was reduced to a blubbering mess screaming ‘Surely, not! That can’t be it!’
This Love is rooted in tragedy for both our heroine, Sophie, and her love interest, Ben. It’s unfortunately one of those books that I really can’t say all that much about for fear of inadvertently spoiling it. Both are quite tragic characters and the grief that burdens them is palpable on every page, but I appreciated Atkins taking it slow. Romance novels tend to skip the slow-burn and instead go full acceleration which is not only tedious, but just ruins the believability of the characters’ relationship. Atkins’ choice to build the mystery as to why these characters are so… ‘tortured’, if you will, makes This Love feel very real. We’re able to invest in the growing friendship and blossoming romance between Sophie and Ben which is why when Atkins throws in the classic and slightly cliche plot twist typical of a dramatic contemporary romance instead of rolling my eyes, I felt stunned with pain and anguish.
I don’t know, perhaps it is easier to emotionally connect with the story when you’ve been through similar situations to the characters yourself or maybe Atkins’ writing is incredibly emotionally moving in itself, but This Love truly had me sobbing like a small child for a solid hour or two. The emotional gravity of the story and how much you care about Ben and Sophie slowly creeps up on you before coming to a head in the final chapter where Atkins pulls out all the stops to ensure you’re left a weeping mess. If you don’t cry after reading This Love, you’re cold and heartless. I don’t make the rules.
In this day and age, I have such a love-hate relationship with romance novels. There’s a little bit of over-saturation in the genre when it comes to the sheer volume of stories with the same structure, set-up and twists, but I’m a romantic by nature so I’ll always have a soft spot for a little bit of love in literature. Sure, This Love has the same dramatic outline and tropes as many others and while I would’ve liked Atkins to deviate from this and maybe explore the opening event of fire and the characters involved in that a little bit more, I understand the focus is on the romance.
It did, however, feel like quite a refreshing entry. There are seldom romances that are able to get me to subtly invest as quickly as This Love did. I take my hat off to Atkins for producing such a beautifully written story and I look forward to reading more from her.