Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Everything Happens for a Reason by Katie Allen. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Orenda Books for my digital review copy.
About the Book
Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.
When a misguided well-wisher tells her that ‘everything happens for a reason’, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.
Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…
Format: Paperback (320 pages) Publisher: Orenda Books
Publication date: 10th June 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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The publishers describe Everything Happens for a Reason as “a heart-wrenching portrait of grief” and a “gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story”. If you’re sceptical that those two things can exist side by side in a book then think again because somehow the author manages it.
The book is structured as a series of emails from Rachel to a recipient who is initially unidentified but whose identity the reader will soon guess. The format works well, allowing the reader to get inside her mind even if that is a troubling place to be. Having said that, I did marvel at Rachel’s ability to recall conversations in word for word detail.
Her early emails reveal the sad details of her daily life which she has filled with small tasks, all planned to a strict routine and aimed at simply getting her from one day to the next. Akin to the effort of putting one foot in front of the other when you’re absolutely exhausted. Although it might sound intrusive, I actually felt reading the emails made me feel a connection with Rachel as if by being a witness to her grief I was also part of a silent, unseen support network.
As the book reveals, grief can be a lonely place. Rachel’s husband Ed (often referred to simply as ‘E’) is mostly absent, either at work or travelling on business. Often their communication is limited to text messages or notes left pinned to the fridge. There are brief glimpses of his own grief and I did find myself feeling it was shame Ed and Rachel couldn’t communicate with each other as openly as Rachel does in her emails. London Underground employee, Lola, is the one person who, despite initial appearances, appreciates what Rachel is going through and gives her practical help and support. Through Lola, Rachel forms a relationship with Lola’s daughter, Josephine.
When Rachel becomes convinced there is a connection between the man she saved and the loss of her son, her emails recount her efforts to trace him. When she does, Rachel embarks on a mission to make his life of value, as if that can replace the positive impact on the world she’s sure her son would have had. Unfortunately, Ben is not a brain surgeon saving countless others lives but a dog walker. However, that doesn’t deter Rachel and she comes up with a plan for a joint business venture. But is her idea a valuable service, an astute identification of a gap in the market or the sign of her need to control events? I felt usettled by how much she invests in it, both emotionally and financially, especially given I couldn’t really warm to Ben.
Despite the sad events underpinning the story, there are moments of humour. For example, Rachel’s unspoken response to the question about whether the ginger biscuits she’s brought to a prayer meeting are vegan. Or, when returning on the Tube and finding herself quietly repeating a phrase she’s heard at the meeting, her observation that ‘There’s nothing unusual about chanting “all in God’s plan” on the Northern line’.
The most powerful element of the book for me was the way it demonstrated just what an impact ill-thought-out words and deeds can have on someone going through what Rachel is, what she describes at one point as being ‘haunted by other people’s clumsy words’. Something for us all to bear in mind, I think.
In three words: Perceptive, tender, heartbreaking
Try something similar: Train Man by Andrew Mulligan
About the Author
Everything Happens for a Reason is Katie’s first novel. She used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London. The events in Everything Happens for a Reason are fiction, but the premise is loosely autobiographical. Katie’s son, Finn, was stillborn in 2010, and her character ’s experience of grief and being on maternity leave without a baby is based on her own. And yes, someone did say to her ‘Everything happens for a reason’.
Katie grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. When she’s not writing or walking children and dogs, Katie loves baking, playing the piano, reading news and wishing she had written other people’s brilliant novels.