A book review by Gill Sherry
Rarely do I feel compelled to write a review after reading a novel. Occasionally, however, I am left spellbound by a story and/or by the prose that tells that story. In the case of While I Have You, the debut novel by A C Harlow, it was the final chapter that prompted me to share my reading experience.
The story follows the forbidden but, perhaps, inevitable relationship between Justin and Leah. As well the age difference between the two main characters, there is also Justin’s marriage to Marcella, and Leah’s casual union with Justin’s brother, Tristan, to complicate this modern-day love story.
The author delves deeply into the emotions of both Justin and Leah, describing their inner battles and moral dilemmas in captivating detail. Leah’s journey to adulthood is far from smooth and behind the mature attitude she is vulnerable and insecure, often resorting to self-harm.
‘She longed to feel something beyond the numbness that always followed the end of her time with Justin. The intense stabbing sensation felt better. Didn’t it? It was better. It was what she deserved.’
Justin’s feelings for Leah are complex, his need for her friendship combining with the desire to protect her and his longing for a more intimate connection. Despite his marriage and the imminent birth of his first child, the author explores his thoughts so comprehensively and so sympathetically, it is difficult to judge him or, indeed, dislike him.
‘She was young and sweet and perfect. It was impossible not to want to know more, not to want to engage her in conversation not to want to make her laugh, have her bite her lip or blush with embarrassment.’
To distance herself from Justin, Leah travels to Cambodia with Tristan. The country is brought to life by the author’s first-hand descriptions and by Leah’s heart-wrenching experiences so many miles from home. The reader is swept along on a tide of emotions: grief, loneliness and hope.
Needless to say, Justin and Leah do, eventually, reunite and it is this reunion that makes up the final, breath-taking chapter. It is shocking and sad in equal measure, but, as an ending, entirely satisfying.
While I Have You is so much more than a love story. It deals with the complex issues of sexual assault, post-natal depression and self-harm. And rather than focus on the predictable topic of deceit, it examines the sacrifices made by each character in their struggle to do the right thing, highlighting their distress and, ultimately, their acceptance.
To conclude, it is realistic, well written and brave. It is also one of the few books that has left me speechless. Well done A. C. Harlow, that’s no mean feat!
‘She wondered how long they could orbit each other without colliding. Two halves of a planet separated by light years, both uninhabitable: one without gravity, the other without oxygen.’
Publisher: Embossed Ink
Published: UK, January 2021
Price: £8.99 (Paperback)
£4.99 (Kindle edition)