Loved it and didn’t want to leave it.

A look at the book ‘Love Them and Leave Them’ by Sue Shepherd.

I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not really a rom-com person. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and there have been a few along the way that stand out as genuinely good entertainment, but in such a wishy-washy genre packed abrim with weak stories and shallow characters, it’s not something I’m willing to commit too much time to.

I find rom-com is a genre that leaves little for discovery. But every so often, you find something that gives you an alternate perspective. Sue Shepherd’s first book – ‘Doesn’t Everybody Have a Secret?’ – was a gem that did just that and she’s now followed up with another novel that offers something a little different from the norm.

Love Them and Leave Them is two stories in one. A ‘Sliding Doors’ style discovery of two universes running parallel and how the choices one makes affects life and the relationships built in it. But unlike ‘Sliding Doors’, this story seems to touch a little deeper on the realities of life and the trials and tribulations that we – or those close to us – experience.

For example, watching Gwyneth Paltrow get her hair cut and ponder her future with the Monty Python loving John Hannah was all entertaining, but it was very much just about her figuring out where she should go. At no point did it branch out to show how the lives around her were also affected by the events that separated the two version of our main character.

‘Love Them and Leave Them’ does go further and it gives us insight into how relationships change, how they stay the same, how they can have repercussions on other people and how somethings just were meant to be. You can’t help but draw some parallels between this and ‘Doors’, but somehow it sort of fits that a story about a parallel reality almost parallels another parallel dimension story.

It’s a highly relatable book. Sue’s knack for realistic dialogue remains, right the way down to certain vocal nuances that give the characters their own personalities. In fact, so realistic was the dialogue and so true to how people speak in this day and age that had I been given the opportunity, I’d have sat the characters down and told them, as I have done to Mrs Roy a few times, ending every sentence and statement with the word ‘okay’ is certainly not okay by me.

But these vocal traits allow their voices form clearly in your mind and you never doubt who’s delivering a line at any point. Each character is thoughtfully fleshed out for us without the need for insulting exposition and they drive the story nicely but at a pleasant and refreshing pace that befits a book of this genre.

The story itself is told in two parts and, for the most part, this works very nicely. The altering circumstances characters find themselves in offers good opportunities to learn about them in one timeline to offer us better understanding of them in the other.

Perhaps it was intentional, perhaps it was a given on a book with a focus on complex relationships between friends and family, but I foresaw a couple of the big revelations. Despite this, it took nothing away from the reading of the book as – much like building a Lego kit – you might know where you’re heading to, but the fun is in finding out how you get there.

To conclude, I genuinely enjoyed this book. Part of me wishes that there could have been some kind of awareness or interaction between the two timelines to allow them some perspective on their successes and failures, but that’s a Sci-Fi scenario that would be misplaced in a story of this nature. What we are given, is an interesting philosophical position where we can ponder in almost voyeuristic style into the lives of others and wonder if the decisions we make in our own lives are branching out alternative versions of us. Whatever my choices in life, I’d like to think that all versions of me, at some point, had/have the chance to lighten a couple of evening with this witty, charming and thought provoking book.

A reason why you should read it: Because you want something well written and engaging that dares to be a little bit off the beaten path.

A reason why you shouldn’t read it: Because you want something that rips open the fabric of time and space, mashes it all together and spits out implausible but gripping paradoxes solvable only by a fourteen-year-old on the bridge of the Enterprise.

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