Tender and Insightful
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 23, 2022
Cleo works for a dating column, writing about 'finding her flamingo'. However, lately her heart no longer seems to be in it and sensing this her editor has a proposition. For Cleo's upcoming 30th birthday, she wants her to 'marry herself', with an all expenses included trip to the remote Salvation Island, off the Irish Coast. Naturally Cleo's immediate response is not all that forthcoming, however, she decides to go along with it and soon finds herself arriving at Otter Lodge. The only problem is that the lodge appears to have been double-booked. Mack Sullivan is an annoying American, who refuses to leave, and with Cleo stubbornly refusing to head back to London herself, and no other accommodation available on the Island, it seems the two are stuck sharing the lodge together!
I loved Silver's first book, One Day in December, and her second offering, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, whilst not quite living up to her debut, was also a touching and thoughtful read. As such I was eagerly looking forward to her third book and am glad to say that I was not disappointed. Certainly one can see her growth as a writer, and this book has a more mature tone and feel to it. Whilst romance does feature heavily in the story, I would say that overall this is more a book about finding and loving oneself than anything else, and I appreciated that concept. On that note, I will say though that initially the idea of Cleo 'marrying herself' did seem rather far-fetched, and whilst the notion remained a little bizarre throughout the story, the sentiment behind it and what it came to mean did actually resonate very well. We can often place too much emphasis on finding the right person to complete us, but as Cleo discovers you don't need another person to define your happiness in life, that comes from having a sense of self-fulfillment, and that is the journey that Cleo undertakes in this book.
I have to say that I didn't all that much like Cleo at the start of the story, she seemed rather whiny and self-absorbed, however, she undergoes a transformation on Salvation Island, and the strong, independent and compassionate woman that emerged was one that I was really drawn to.
The situation with the lodge being double-booked does seem rather contrived and there for plot convenience, so as to force these two characters into proximity, and I was at this stage of the story expecting a more traditional rom-com given the set up, however, that is not at all how it turned out. Both Cleo and Mack are on Salvation Island for their own reasons and to work through things, both desperately need this time and space, but it turns out they also need each other, and I really enjoyed the tender relationship that evolved between them after the initial hostilities.
Unlike Cleo, Mack was a character that I was immediately drawn to. He is in the process of going through a separation from his wife, and I thought Silver did a fantastic job of depicting his emotional struggle to adjust to his new life. In particular his love for his two sons really shone through, as did his determination to be a good father no matter what was happening between him and Susie. He always seemed like such a dependable character that it was very easy to like him.
I would say that if you are the sort of reader who can't tolerate the idea of a still married, albeit separated man having a relationship with another woman, then this is likely not the book for you. However, I appreciated the messy complexities of real life depicted in this book, and thought it gave the story added layers and a maturity. Furthermore, to me it was always very clear that Mack was a man with a great deal of personal integrity.
Salvation Island, a fictional setting, is very much a character in its own right and central to the story. I loved its sense of remoteness and also the strong sense of community among its inhabitants. Cleo develops some really strong friendships on the Island, and I loved the knitting group and the sense of sisterhood among the Island women. Furthermore, the Island is crucial to Cleo's personal journey in reconnecting with herself, and again that idea of how easy it is to become lost in the daily 'rat race' and for your inner voice to be drowned out by all the noise was well depicted and resonated.
I liked the structure of the story, with chapters from both Cleo and Mack's point of views as it helped get a better insight to both their characters and inner thought processes. The majority of the book takes place on the Island, though there is a shift to Boston later on as we continue to catch up with Mack, and I think it added to the story to get more of an insight into his family life.
Overall, this book was probably not quite what I was expecting, but certainly turned out to be a book that I very much enjoyed. It was a slow and gentle story and I liked its central themes of connecting with oneself, loved the setting, and appreciated the tender and mature romance it offered. Another great offering from Silver.