The one constancy in our lives is that of family. We are born into one, nurtured by one and we rely on one. However, pain can either bring loved ones together or tear them apart and that is what Patricia Scanlan examines in her heart-warming novel, WITH ALL MY LOVE.
Briony’s discovery of a hidden letter from her grandmother, Tessa, initiates the interrogation of the past, which her mother, Valerie, closed the doors to long ago. Now, in order to make history not repeat itself, Valerie has to reawaken her adolescence and supply answers to her daughter of the mess that she and Tessa equally manifested all those years ago.
The novel dances between different decades and perspectives. The Irish writer handles these conversions well: Scanlan is able to break into each characters thoughts before sliding with ease into another. This lets us witness the private emotions of each person, which only makes their actions comprehendible. Straight away the novel deploys this shift as we are transported from Briony’s anger towards her deceitful mum in the present day, to Valerie reflecting on her youthful years in the eighties. Alongside the characters, we are taking on an emotional journey where their trials and tribulations become more and more genuine.
What Scanlan plays on the most is characterisation. We are introduced to convincing individuals of whom we grow fond of, until we hear from another perspective of their views on that character, consequently making us have distaste towards them. We enjoy the company of Valerie, her courting relationship with Jeff and we understand her irritation towards Jeff’s mother. However, we also understand Tessa’s intentions of protecting her youngest child and her jealous nature towards Valerie. This shifting from court to court never seems to stop until, like the characters themselves, in the end we accept who they are. Scanlan is a mastermind of the human emotion; she juggles realistically with the characters growth and relationships, leaving us moved by their resolutions.
As much as they wouldn’t care to admit, Tessa and Valerie are very similar hot-headed woman. Both of their motives for disliking one another are strong, but their actions are selfish and therefore: they cause self-inflicted pain. Both are tortured by the misunderstood events of the past and both need to release their grudges in order to move on. However, the difference between the feisty females is their upbringing and family relationships and so it’s interesting to see how the struggles of motherhood are too relished in this book.
Jeff is the vital link in the merging of the two families. If it wasn’t for him then the Egan’s and Harris’ would have no connection and his death is the climatic reason for their inevitable feud. Although, it is his and Valerie’s daughter, Briony, who joins the two families through blood, who is the only person that can mend this broken relationship. Coping with a death is something we all have to deal with at some point in our lives and Scanlan demonstrates how we can accept and confront this situation. She shows us that there is always a possibility to rekindle a relationship and have a fresh start. Not everything in a family can be perfect, but we have the choice to stick together and make it be as best as possible.
WITH ALL MY LOVE is a thought-provoking bittersweet tale celebrating the sorrows and thrills of family life. Scanlan opens to us the trials and tribulations brought about by the death of a loved one and the aftermath of this on a family. At its core, WITH ALL MY LOVE, is an examination of the impact of individual personalities on a family and how the past needs to be confronted in order to lead a brighter, closer future. A tear will be shed by the end of this novel.