All I Ever Wanted by Lucy Dillon

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Nancy is four, nearly five. She talks all the time: in the car, on the way to nursery, to her brother, to her collection of bears. And then one day everything changes. Nancy’s mum and dad split up, her father moves across the country, and Nancy stops talking.

Eva is forty-four, nearly forty-five. She always knew marrying a much older man meant compromises, but she was sure it was worth it – until Mickey dies suddenly, leaving Eva with only his diaries and a voice in the back of her mind telling her that perhaps she’s sacrificed more than she meant to.

While Nancy’s parents negotiate their separation, the question of weekend contact is solved when her father volunteers his sister Eva’s house. As spring turns to summer, a trust slowly begins to form between a little girl with a heartbreaking secret, and a woman who has realised too late that what she yearns for is the love of a child.

*********

I really enjoyed All I Ever Wanted.  It has everything. Family issues, humour, heartbreak, tension.

Patrick and Caitlin are the parents of Joel (10) and Nancy (4). Nancy is at nursery and is a real chatterbox. Joel is very dramatic – loves singing, dancing, performing.

When Patrick has to move up to Newcastle for his job, Caitlin decides she wants to stay in Bristol with the children. They live in a mortgage free house that Caitlin’s grandmother had left to her and she feels settled and secure there. Needless to say they decide to separate.

The negotiations are not easy. Patrick has always been a workaholic but he wants shared care of the children, and Caitlin is not happy with the idea of the children making a 600 mile round trip every week. Mediation seemed to bring out the worst in both of them but Patrick eventually suggests that his sister might host contact and she is only 70 miles away. Caitlin has some doubts about this as his sister Eva is a young widow with two pugs and no children and might not be able to or want to have two young exuberant children staying every weekend.

Then the unthinkable happens. Nancy stops talking. Suddenly and seemingly without reason. This adds a complication to the story as she can’t or won’t communicate with the people around her and leads to some incidents and anxious moments.

I loved all the characters and their relationships. There is depth to the characters and I felt as if I knew them. It was certainly easy to picture them. They all have various issues to try and fix. Eva has come to realise that because she married an older man she gave up the chance to have children, and with his sudden death starts to wonder what might have been. (He also had two ex-wives and a son). There is pressure on Eva (and the other wives) to agree to her husband’s diaries being published but that forces her to read them (reluctantly) and leads to some soul-searching.

Eva and Patrick have very different memories of their upbringing and they don’t seem to be particularly close siblings. Patrick spends most of his time at work and and you feel he puts work before the children. He seems to have a need to be in control all the time, but when you learn of his past through Eva’s eyes, I did feel sympathy for him.

Caitlin too is an interesting character. She fell pregnant by accident the summer after graduation and never took up a career, instead moving in with her grandmother. (Patrick is actually Joel’s stepfather but has always considered Joel his son). Caitlin now works in a cafe. After she and Patrick separate she gets to try spreading her wings a little bit. Successfully? I don’t want to spoil the plot.

The children are delightful. Easy to imagine them. It turns out they get on really well with Aunt Eva’s two pugs and the two dogs have their role to play too.

The interaction between the children and the adults is very entertaining. There are also quite serious incidents, adding to the drama and ultimate enjoyment of the story.

This is an entertaining read but with enough dramatic moments to keep you on your toes. There were a few heart-stopping moments too. The various threads of the story all interweave very smoothly. I wasn’t sure how it would end so it was one of those books that kept me reading well into the night.  I like those ones.

(Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an ARC in exchange for an honest review)

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