Tuesday 12 February 2013

The Valentine's Card by Juliet Ashton

Primary school teacher Orla and actor Sim have been together for three years but have spent the last few months conducting a long-term relationship. Sim has finally made the big break onto television, landing a major role in The Courtesan, the BBC’s latest costume drama. Filming takes place in London so Sim has made the temporary move while Orla remains in Ireland.

Orla and Sim have discussed the future and Sim has always maintained that once he’d ‘made it’, he and Orla would marry. So when Valentine’s Day arrives, along with a pink enveloped card from Sim, Orla is expecting a proposal. Sim has always been very good at writing cards, putting his heart into every message rather than a quick, scribbled note. Orla suspects Sim has proposed to her within the card but before she has the chance to open it, she receives some terrible news. Sim died very suddenly that morning while his card was on its way to her.

Orla’s world shatters around her. She has lost the man she loves, the man who is supposed to be her fiancĂ©, and she can’t even say goodbye properly as Sim’s mother takes over, pushing Orla out. The only task Sim’s mother reluctantly allows Orla to carry out is the clearing of Sim’s London flat.

In his final months, Sim had lived in a tiny flat above a bookshop owned by an elderly lady, Maude. Maude takes a grieving Orla under her wing as she clears out the flat and searches for Sim’s journal. Sim regularly wrote in his journal but would never permit Orla to read it so she is determined to find it and read Sim’s documentation of their life together. But locating the journal isn’t easy and Orla finds her stay in London is extended. She has taken the still unopened Valentine’s card, not quite ready to read Sim’s final words to her yet. She will read the journal and then she will open the card. If only she knew the whereabouts of the journal.

The Valentine’s Card is a story about grief and moving on. Orla can’t move on until she locates Sim’s journal, which takes on a deeper significance and becomes an obsession for Orla. Against the advice of those around her, Orla clings onto the Valentine’s card, carrying it around with her and even talking to it as she battles with her grief.

The book is enveloped by grief but I didn’t find it depressing as it is written in a humorous style, which I enjoyed. Orla is surrounded by some fantastic characters, from her mother and her best friend, Juno to Maude and Bogna, the new friendships she forms while in London. I loved the bond between Orla and her new landlady. Maude became a mother figure, friend and confidant rolled into one. Orla and Maude take care of each other and it was such a pleasure to watch their friendship develop.

Although Sim dies at the very beginning of the book, we do get to know him through his journal entries and Orla’s memories of their relationship and his personality shines through. Orla becomes very attached to Sim’s Valentine’s card, although she refuses to open it, and I was intrigued about the message it contained, especially after reading some of Sim’s more recent journal entries. I felt for Orla as she struggled to come to terms with losing Sim but the book is far from maudlin. I found it be a witty and enjoyable read and look forward to reading more from Juliet Ashton.

Thank you to Sphere for sending me a copy to review.

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