After two starkly different novels (The Hiding Place, 2001 and Remember Me, 2004), Azzopardi moves in yet a third direction: a romance, springing to life on the English coast, between two damaged souls struggling to get beyond tragic losses suffered in their childhoods.
For years, Lewis, now in his mid-30s, has been driving himself mad with survivor’s guilt over the death of his twin brother, Wayne, in a car accident when they were 15. He comes to the Norfolk coast looking for Carl, Wayne’s friend, who was driving the car but has never shown remorse. Lewis rents a room from Rita, a lively septuagenarian whose daughter Anna happens to be visiting to help Rita after a fall. Anna and Lewis immediately recognize and are drawn to each other’s despair, although their anguish differs in degree. Anna, lonely and neurotically withdrawn, suffering from partial hearing loss that dates back to her father’s death when she was seven, disapproves of Rita’s boisterous lifestyle and boyfriend, a retired actor/ventriloquist nicknamed Cabbage, but her scenes with her mother can be touchingly funny. Lewis has drawn closer to real insanity, with a scary tendency to black out and break things. Through coincidences that feel a bit too carefully staged, Lewis learns that Carl might be in nearby Winterton and takes off. Just as Lewis is dragging Carl into the ocean, possibly to drown him, Anna shows up. No one is hurt, but Rita tells Lewis he must go away until he gets his life on track. Meanwhile, Rita and Cabbage marry, much to the dismay of Anna. With help from Carl’s father, Lewis finally accepts the reality of his past and is ready to build a life with Anna, who has been facing down her own fears. Azzopardi keeps the lovers apart for too much of the novel. Their memories and even their interactions tend to be elliptical, but the novel’s odd logic nevertheless draws the reader in.