Friday, 31 July 2020

Publication Day Review: With or Without You by Drew Davies

How long does a coma last?’ I ask.
‘Days, weeks, months?’ the nurse replies with a shrug, although her eyes are very kind.
‘But on average?’
She just smiles, unable to give me an answer.

Wendy’s life can be neatly divided into two: before and after.

Before her husband’s car accident, it was just the two of them. They never took the train at rush hour, and they avoided their noisy neighbour upstairs. Naveem devoted his spare time to vintage train models, and Wendy to re-reading the well-thumbed pages of her favourite books. It didn’t matter what others thought about their small, quiet life together – they were happy.

After the coma, Wendy barely recognises herself. When she’s not holding the love of her life’s hand, accompanied by the beep of the life-support machine, who is she? The nurse tells her to talk to Naveem – that he can still hear her – but she doesn’t have a single thing to say.

Suddenly Wendy can’t bear the silence. She needs something, anything, to talk to Naveem about. Suddenly she’s losing herself at fairgrounds packed with crowds and candyfloss, she’s at the airport, waiting for the whoosh of the planes as they take off, making friends with the neighbour she has spent over a decade avoiding.

Knowing that every breath her husband takes might be his last, Wendy has no choice but to try to carry on without him. Should she feel guilty about living while his life is on pause? And when – if – he wakes up, will he still love the woman she has become?

This poignant, moving and uplifting tale is for anyone who has taken life for granted, neglected to say ‘I love you’ to their loved ones, or forgotten to find happiness in the little things. Perfect for fans of Josie Silver, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and Jojo Moyes. 

Wendy and Naveem Dixit are like a well-oiled machine. They live their life as a devoted couple, rather than two individual people married to each other. To the outside world, their lives are quiet and predictable, set in their ways as they follow their daily routines. All is well until taxi driver, Naveem is involved in a car crash and ends up in a coma. Suddenly, Wendy's life takes on an uncertain direction as her husband fights for his life and she flounders in the unknown. 

The world is full of people like Wendy and Naveem who blend into the background, getting on with their lives without drawing too much attention to themselves. I enjoyed how the author created them and the secondary characters, into such underwhelming people… which isn't a criticism because when dealing with a crisis, they come alive and pull together and offer support, as you'd expect. However, to outsiders, they're quirky, somewhat odd and mostly don't fit in within the definition of normal. Yet, just like everyone else, their time of need is just as fraught and dramatic. 

With or Without You is a heart-wrenching novel bursting with intriguing characters. The mood is melancholic but broken up with light-hearted moments and witty dialogue, courtesy of Mrs Rampersad. As a reader, we're taken on an emotional journey. The beginning leaves you feeling as despondent as Wendy, coming to terms with her new normal but as time progresses, the mood ebbs and flows and ends happily. The overall message is touching and highlights the strength of friendship especially during times of need and emphasises the point that life can stray off course at any point in time. 

This is my first Drew Davies novel and won't be my last. This is a well-thought-out and crafted story, giving pause for thought and reflection. 

***arc generously received courtesy of Bookouture via NetGalley***

Drew Davies was born in London and grew up in Whanganui, New Zealand. He attended the Unitec School of Performing Arts in Auckland and won a Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwright of the Year award in 2000. After a brief stint on a kiwi soap, he has worked in Search for the past 15 years. Drew’s other claim to fame is that Stephen Fry once called him droll. Either that, or he got his name wrong. He now lives in Wanstead, London. 

Twitter: @Drew_Davies
Instagram: @drewdavieswriter