My thanks go out to the lovely Sarah, representing publisher Bookouture, for securing me a spot on this ‘Books On Tour’ journey.
As ever, additional thanks go out to NetGalley, for their excellent download and review service.
THE LOCKED AWAY LIFE
Esther has shut away herself in her vine-covered manor house on the top of a hill for as long as she can remember. Everyone in the village whispers about the scandal that broke her heart. She has cut herself off from the world – until now. Now, she needs help uncovering the mystery that has plagued her for decades…
On a sunny spring day, eighteen-year-old Bruno is in the local library when he spots an advert. The old lady on the hill is looking for internet lessons, and Bruno sees his chance. Forever the outsider, he can’t wait to escape the sleepy village – the paid position could be his ticket out of there.
Esther and Bruno have nothing in common, except that they are both in hiding, and their secrets are stopping them from truly living… Esther must come to terms with her past, and Bruno needs to figure out his future.
Can these two strangers save one another?
Drew Davies was born in North London and moved to New Zealand when he was four years old.
At 18, he was accepted into a Drama School in Auckland, to do a bachelor of performing & screen arts, leaving two years later, hungry to start his career, which got off to a flying start when he landed a role in the popular, long-running kiwi soap ‘Shortland Street’.
However, there was not a whole lot of TV work to do after Shortland Street, so he decided that then was the right time to return to London.
For a while, Drew worked as a waiter in a fancy hotel restaurant, began writing for an online magazine and spent a summer in Ibiza promoting a club. Alongside all this, he’d taught himself the basics of search engine optimisation (SEO) and on his return to London, after a stint as Head of Online Marketing at an SEO agency, he went freelance and built up his own business, alongside launching his career in the world of novel writing.
Drew still lives in London with his fiancé. He is vegetarian and teetotal, but describes himself as much more fun than that combination makes him sound.
“These thoughts were the very reason she was climbing this hill. To be rid of thinking, of worrying, of feeling like she could have done more. How many years did it take to comprehend life? Almost all of them, Esther felt despairingly, and yet she was no closer to understanding it”
“Bruno wished he was more capable of lying, but when he was keeping such a deep secret about himself hidden, the truth almost rose out of him by itself, like a counterweight”
“And when I ask anyone, where has everything gone in the world, they tell me – On-Line. It’s some magical place they created when I wasn’t looking. The promised land. No one explained the ramifications until it was too late. Or maybe they did, and I wasn’t listening”
“You’ve come to the threadbare end of your tattered life, and you’re hoping it affords you a vantage, but you’ve missed the lesson completely. Life is not about morals, and principles. It’s about evolution. And you are a dinosaur staring down an approaching meteorite”
“Life should not be dampened with regret but nourished with hopes and dreams”
“One always thinks of oneself as worldly and wise, until you age and get worldlier and wiser”
“Everyone has secrets… But are they saving you or destroying you?”
All the while I was reading this book, in the back of my mind I did wonder what sparked the idea for this storyline, so I was pleased that in a short note at the end of the book, author Drew Davies reveals that it is loosely based on the relationship he had with his own grandmother, particularly during lockdown, when with other people, he tried to teach her the finer points of the Internet, so that they could keep in touch. It was with great sadness that I read she had quite recently passed away, as if she had been only half as feisty as her fictional counterpart Esther, she must have been a force of nature to be reckoned with!
Esther, an elderly invalid and Bruno, an introvert young adult seemingly have nothing in common, except that they are both in hiding, and their respective secrets are stopping them from truly living. Esther, who has lived in seclusion and isolated for many decades, with only her beloved books and music for company, must come to terms with her past, whilst Bruno, who lives with his parents and siblings, needs to figure out the path his future will take.
Their paths are destined to cross when Esther posts an advert in a local shop for someone to help her embrace life in the world of the Internet and mobile phone technology, and Bruno applies for the position. There are several false starts to their relationship, as Esther is a demanding and rather temperamental employer and Bruno is too afraid of upsetting her fragile health to speak his mind.
As the seeds of trust between them begin to take root, it becomes apparent that Esther, whilst her technology skills might be weak, is far more astute about life and people, than Bruno gives her credit for. She is soon able to see through his rather weak and vulnerable façade, to the root of his problem and being the forthright person she is, she does not shy away from confronting him about the inner turmoil the battle with his sexuality is causing him. Bruno, as it transpires completely needlessly, somehow sees his feelings as being shameful for his family and has decided on a very drastic course of action, which leaves him traumatised, forever in Esther’s debt for rescuing him from himself and affording him the time and space to explore his feelings without judgment or fear, grateful to have the unswerving love and support of such an understanding and inclusive family, and determined to spend his future channelling his skills and energy into bringing about a change in attitudes for those less fortunate than himself.
Likewise, Bruno manages to wheedle from a very reluctant Esther, details of the scandal and secrets surrounding her past affair with a married man of some standing in his community, who when push came to shove, abandoned her to her fate in favour of his wife, although a blinkered Esther is only just coming to realise the true cowardice of the man she has held a torch for all this time. The duplicitous behaviour of someone she once called friend, resulted in Esther’s name being dragged through the mire of the tabloid press, causing her to become a prisoner of her own perceived shame, a figure of ridicule and fear in the local community, and a rather distant mother to her daughter Jane. When a near death experience and a cathartic conversation with her paramour’s wife, releases Esther from her social paralysis, reunites her with a daughter with whom she establishes a long overdue familial relationship, and sets her on a new and invigorating path, for what remains of her life, she and Bruno go their separate ways, although they will always be tied by the invisible threads of a deep friendship and respect for one another.
There are many layers to this intriguing, atmospheric, wonderfully textured and immersive storyline, with some unexpectedly intense and highly emotional twists only adding to the deeply insightful, evocative, and utterly unforgettable relationship between Esther and Bruno. A poignant, achingly beautiful and uplifting story, which crosses the generational divide. There were also some lighter, heart-warming moments of spontaneous and candid humour, which lifted the dialogue and gave the characters a compelling voice of their own, with which to tell their story.
It is the unconventional story of an evolving and enduring friendship, and a deep mutual respect. About recognising, confronting, admitting and accepting sexuality, both within oneself and in others. Highlighting the danger of zealous practitioners who revel in the horrors of conversion therapy. Exploring the ignorance and social bias which still surrounds ethnicity and religion (Esther is a Jewess and Bruno a descendant of the Romany community). It is also about setting oneself free from the controlling and consuming shame with which we surround ourselves, often unnecessarily. The search for cultural identity and social justice. And the powerful yet fragile ability nature has, to heal and mend a damaged mind and spirit, whilst helping to discover and unlock those hidden passions we all have.
The quality writing is perceptive, fluent, intuitive, often raw and passionate, profoundly touching and lovingly written from the heart with compelling confidence and total authority.
The physical footprint this story occupies, is quite finely focussed, so whilst the narrative about specific places is very descriptive with good spatial awareness, for any confirmed ‘armchair travellers’ this one might be a little light on location. This is undoubtedly all about the storyline and the cast of characters who occupy its space; the interactions between them as individuals and with the wider community; their personalities and how a little understanding and compassion, often from complete strangers, can change their perspectives on life.
A large, well-defined and multi-faceted cast of characters, definitely own this storyline, growing in stature and developing into the physical space they occupy. They were quite a complex, vulnerable and emotional bunch, a many-sided jigsaw of human emotions, which often made them appear unreliable and rather volatile, prone to making rash and ill-considered decisions, thus making them difficult to connect with or identify with on many levels. However, they were genuine, believable, engaging and authentic to the roles created for them by the author, with the synergy between them obvious for me to see.
What always makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every new book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who fire my imagination, stir my emotions and stimulate my senses. This story was definitely one of a kind, having the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor the next. Therefore, I can only recommend that you read “The Locked Away Life” for yourself, to see where your journey leads you!
As one of my fellow bloggers so aptly wrote: “Sometimes reading something different is like a breath of fresh air”. Thank you, Shirley, I couldn’t agree more!
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars
Thank you so much for taking time to read my review, I appreciate your support