Picture this; You crash your car on a road trip with your bestie while under pressure to get to a wedding on time – but it gets worse.
The car you crashed into while you’re under pressure to get to a wedding on time is your ex’s car, and he needs a lift to the same wedding, along with a person who seriously hates your guts.
Oh, and you’ve somehow picked up a weird hitchhiker along the way too.
Throw in an eight-hour road trip with five people crammed into Mini in thirty-six-degree heat, a tight time schedule and whooooolllleee lot of unresolved drama and what do you get?
Beth O’Leary’s latest novel published by Quercus coming out this April!
No one can throw lovers together in an awkward situation like Beth O'Leary can. From the bestselling ‘The Flatshare’ to ‘The Switch’, O’Leary’s witty prose and quick dialogue has never let up for a second, and the same is true of her latest contemporary romantic fiction, ‘The Road Trip’.
Addie’s road trip with her sister Deb was perfectly planned, until Dylan - her ex - and Marcus - his best friend – are thrown into their plans like a bomb of drama just waiting to go off. As we cram awkwardly into the tiny little car with them, the tension rises like the summer weather’s temperature, making it a tinderbox of emotions ready to be set off.
The pressure of the present collides with the unfolding story of the past, as we flash back and forth from Addie and Dylan’s perspectives on how their romance started, ended and how they wound up travelling cross-country in a clown-car-esque Mini.
We tumble back in time with them, rewinding ourselves through the car crash, the arguments, the veiled insults and find ourselves in dappled sunlight in the French countryside over two years ago. Addie appears, younger and less guarded, working as a caretaker for a friend’s villa for the summer, where Dylan, less responsible and more lost, just so happens to be staying. The spark is instant and this whimsical, sexy romance soon turns to something deeper in the heady summer heat.
But there are issues simmering away, just beneath the surface of the new romance. Where is the family that was supposed to be with Dylan on holiday? Why are his friends so cautious around Addie? What will happen at the end of their three weeks in this French Paradise?
And how do these love-struck young adults become the bitter, estranged pair that avoid each other’s gazes in the car two years later?
What I really enjoyed about this novel was that O’Leary got to exercise some of her poetic muscles through Dylan, an Oxford English graduate with dreams of becoming a poet. We watch his craft slowly develop over the book as he waxes lyrical about Addie and his life, and we can really see O’Leary bring this softer side to him by using this technique.
Dylan is a refreshing male romantic lead. We’ve become used to the dark and brooding male, who stands about aloof until the opportunity to be ‘chivalrous’ arises, which is really just undoing all the work that the author has put into prove the female protagonist is ‘independent’(!) and ‘strong’(!) and ‘doesn’t need a man’(!) – until she does.
Dylan has none of that domineering quality. In fact, he is the opposite. Thoroughly in touch with his emotions – if not always his common sense – it is Addie that has her emotional barriers up. Afraid of showing her hand, her fear of vulnerability causes their romance to falter as much as Dylan’s tendency to be easily led. They both stumble and fall throughout the narrative, but by the end they have both – especially Dylan – genuinely changed and unlearned a lot of harmful tendencies and behaviours. Addie is a grounding dose of reality to Dylan’s head-in-the-clouds and he’s the constancy to her fear of abandonment.
A colourful cast of characters whirl their way across the pages and their construction is detailed and layered. O’Leary doesn’t allow anyone to be one dimensional – if they get a spot in the story, it’s only because they have earned their way in by being unforgettable. They are the outside forces that interfere and bolster Dylan and Addie, bringing drama, darkness and intrigue to the plot.
Marcus, in particular is a thorn in the reader’s side. Snobbish, chaotic and never satisfied with what he has, he’s he person that always takes things too far. Although he’s a pain, you can tell O’Leary had fun writing him and all his darkness and he’s a vivid, if troubled character to contend with. He represents the trouble that any relationship can run into, as he makes the lifestyle differences in a relationship become that much starker – money, class, family, all gets churned up in the wake of Marcus’ meddling.
And yet there are moments when you find yourself smiling down at the book, the little scenes between Dylan and Addie in the beginning are so sweet, and have an authenticity at times, that make you forget you're reading a romance novel, and instead feel like you’re with a friend telling you about her latest romantic escapade.
A healthy dose of ridiculousness is mixed in with the serious, more complex themes of dependency and purpose, but the romantic storylines hold up against it. In the rush to the wedding, the whirlwind of drama, the unresolved tension, I was getting an almost ‘Mamma Mia’ feel from the story’s climactic run up to the ending.
What do you get when you cram two exes, one pissed-off sister, one weird hitchhiker, one drama king and two years’ worth of unfinished business into a car for eight hours?
You’ll have to wait until April 29th to find out.