A brief lunchtime encounter at Grosvenor Park, London proves a pivotal moment in the lives of two young adults. Ben barely has a chance to introduce himself to Alice when she is whisked away by her domineering colleague to Glasgow. Not Glasgow, Scotland as Ben assumes, rather to see her irate boss, nicknamed after the city.
This misunderstanding sets in motion a course of actions that changes Ben’s life irrevocably as he becomes intent to find Alice once again…by getting to Glasgow whatever means possible! His loyal friend and flat mate, Dave, is on hand to help, even lending his folding bike to Ben. Before he knows it, he has been encouraged with his grandfather’s unexpected and unusual approval and involvement, to enrol on a charity bike race…one which is cut short by a tragedy within the family.
After the meeting with Alice in the park, he soon sees her again…but the reader (and Ben) is aware that this is a hallucination…one that seems very real and with whom he converses. Gradually her appearances drift further apart until the end when Ben’s childhood trauma is fully revealed and the reason for his supposed mental problems are explained.
Meanwhile, Alice continues to face a gauntlet of verbal abuse about her size at both work and from her parents when she visits them…and inevitably a downward spiral of eating ensues to escape her misery. Her daily humiliation saps her confidence and strength until she is weak, meek and at everyone’s mercy. The ray of hope in her days are Ben’s kind words in the park, a memory that supports her and she even makes up a relationship with him to her family and colleagues…one that to her surprise helps her ultimately and dramatically find her voice.
The daily battles in life take a turn for the positive as the memory of their meeting is the catalyst to changes in both their lives.
‘31 Days of Wonder’ is a whimsical novel, often amusing – even laugh out funny at times – whilst also deeply profound and moving. It’s delightfully surprising in failing to conform to convention and become a straight forward romantic story and instead the lives of the two main character circle each other, their separate narratives mirroring but always kept apart.
It is told from a third person viewpoint of Alice and Ben, each entry by them punctuated by either her location, train times or Ben’s location and distance from Alice. Each chapter is a new day, counting up to the titled ‘31’ and with all such counting devices the book easily becomes a compulsive read, which is abetted by the short segments and chapters as well as being written in the present tense.
The theme of self-acceptance is all-pervasive in the book and reflects the author’s own journey to self-acceptance whilst battling with depression during the writing of this novel. After many re-writes over a long time, the author finally achieved the perfect ending…with light, positivity and hope reigning strong.
This is a charming, beautifully written novel of self-discovery which is engaging and memorable. Definitely not to one miss and I am now keen to read Tom Winter’s other books.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Publication Date: 10t August 2017
Publisher: Little Brown Book Group UK
** This is the first of many books I hope to read whilst away on my summer break amidst the serene beauty of the Swedish natural world.