Well…that was depressing. You would think that with a title of “the Power of Love”, we would encounter a tale of love standing up to any of life’s challenges. Instead, we see how love will result in you making terrible decisions in life which will likely bring about your own death, or the death of those closest to you. Makes you feel all warm and cozy, doesn’t it?
This book opens in the 1960s with a horrific car crash involving 2 unknown characters. It then immediately flashes back to the early 1920s in England, which means that for the rest of the book we are just waiting around for tragedy to strike. Delightful. We are introduced to a young woman named Cathy who has about the worst luck of any literary character I’ve ever seen. Her mother died while giving birth to her, and her estranged father dies just when their relationship is on the mend. So within the first 30 pages or so we have a possibly fatal car crash, and two dead parents. Quite a checklist!
Throughout all of her hardships in life, Cathy has had the constant support of her best male friend, Leslie. Although she loves him as a close friend, she doesn’t feel any real attraction for him, so she refuses his repeated proposals of marriage. Even after her refusals, Leslie remains by her side. He’s either extremely patient or ridiculously naive. Then Cathy meets a devilish rogue named Jimmy. He’s a pilot at the outset of WWII, and their immediate attraction for one another leads them to marry after only three weeks. Shortly after their wedding, Jimmy’s plane is shot down during a mission over France, and Cathy is told that he died during an escape attempt with the Resistance. In reality, Jimmy couldn’t face returning to the war in England, so he faked his own death and hid out in France for the rest of the war. Did I mention that Cathy was pregnant when he was shot down, but she never had the chance to tell him? I think it was at this point that I had to put the book down and read something else due to an oncoming bout of depression.
There were many features of this book which I had problems with. Firstly, I didn’t particularly like how the book was organized. It is divided into multiple sections, each of which focuses on a different character. The first section of the book centers entirely around Cathy, but once we hit part 2 she basically disappears. Instead, we see how Jimmy moved on to live a new life in America, and remarried (aka bigamy!). The third section focuses on Cathy and Jimmy’s daughter Sam, followed by a section on Jimmy’s son Giles, and ending with a part about Sam’s daughter Kate. By breaking up the book into this kind of format it was really difficult to connect with any one character. In addition, there is an inordinate amount of time spent on details which eventually become irrelevant. For example, a large portion of Sam’s section is dedicated to talking about her time in university, the difficulties she experienced studying for final exams, etc. when all we really needed to know was how she met her husband while vacationing in Spain. Spoiler alert: they are the ones who died in the car crash at the beginning of the novel. Did I mention that Sam had just found out she was pregnant with her second child before dying in the accident? It was at this point that I had to put the book down for a second time and read something else due to an oncoming bout of depression.
Another major issue I had with this book was in the character of Jimmy. We are meant to feel sorry for him, but in my opinion he was a cowardly pussy. At first, I did sympathize with his decision to remain in France after being shot down. He was obviously experiencing some intense PTSD. My issue is that he abandoned Cathy to save himself. Years later he hires a private investigator, and discovers that Cathy actually survived the war, married Leslie (unbeknownst bigamy!), and had two young sons. But he’s also told that Cathy had a child named Sam before she ever married Leslie, and realizes that he is in fact the father of this child. Even though he has this new information he never makes any attempt during his life to contact them. Throughout the entire book I was waiting for the moment when Jimmy and Cathy would be reunited, but it never comes! He doesn’t even try to find out any updates about their lives, so he never discovers that Sam died in a car crash. Jimmy tries to play it off by saying that Cathy and Sam will always remain perfect in his mind if he doesn’t know anything about them. Whatever! If he truly loved them I find it hard to believe he would have been able to resist reaching out for contact at some point. He just didn’t want to confront his past.
My final issue with this book was that it was too depressing. Whenever a character felt that their life was perfect it usually signaled that someone was going to die tragically within about a week. Even though I didn’t like Jimmy, his son Giles wins the award for the most screwed up character ever. After killing a homeless person in a drunken hit and run, and failing to overthrow Jimmy as the head of his company, he chooses to travel the world, but loses all of his money to scheming con artists. Another lesson of this novel: bad things happen to good and bad people. You’re screwed either way. Part eleventy-seven of this book focuses on Kate, who is Sam’s daughter, aka Cathy and Jimmy’s granddaughter. Are you confused yet? Just wait. Kate falls in love with a handsome American man while on holiday in Spain. Guess who the American is. Spoiler alert: it’s Giles! He knows who Kate really is, and plans to murder her in order to win over the inheritance which Jimmy bequeathed to any children which Sam might have. But then Giles starts to feel things for Kate, thinks that maybe he doesn’t want to kill her, but then he attempts to anyway, but tries to save her in the end, and…he dies. Did I mention that Giles and Kate are technically related because she is his half-niece? Let’s go back through our checklist, shall we? Two parental deaths, one faked death, two instances of bigamy, three car crash deaths (including unborn child), 2 scheming con artists, one attempted murder, one case of incest, and a partridge in a pear tree!!
When I finished this book I thought back on how it all started: with Cathy choosing Jimmy over Leslie. The book spans decades, and results in the death of pretty much every main character we are introduced to. At the end of it all, Cathy and Leslie are really the only two left standing. Well, and Kate, but we didn’t really get to know her all that much. I was hoping that when this book came to a close there would be some kind of redeeming message. Some sort of happiness after 307 pages of death and crushed dreams. Instead, Cathy realizes that she really loved Leslie all along, and that her fling with Jimmy was merely a girlhood crush. In essence, we see how this whole mess started due, not to the power of love, but rather to the power of lust. Aaaaaaand I need a drink.
*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*
Should you read it? I’ll leave that up to you. It’s an intense read, and you don’t exactly feel good when you’re done with it. Have a happy Disney movie on hand. If it had been about 50 pages shorter I might have enjoyed it a bit more.
Smut Level: Not really.