I begin this review with an apology. I read this book a couple of weeks ago, and I really wanted to get a review up for it’s publication date which was 10th June. However this proved to be one of those books where the reading experience continued long after I had turned the final page. It was a book that I needed time to consider, a book that just needed to ‘sit awhile’.
Lives Like Mine tells the contemporary story of Monica. Married to Dan, with three children, she is a stay at home mum. Monica is of dual heritage and her husband is white.
Her in-laws are ever present in her life. She finds solidarity and support in her sister-in-law Nancy, but she is very much the exception. There might be a veneer of acceptance as far as Monica is concerned but Dan’s family are racist to the core. And the mask of tolerance slips again and again.
Monica has spent years shaping herself into something she’s not. Denying her heritage, her identify, her very being and trying to fit in, trying to keep the peace, trying to maintain family harmony for the sake of her children. But the support from her husband Dan is weak at best and he repeatedly fails to challenge the embedded attitudes of his family.
Add in the fact that Monica is estranged from her own parents, still coming to terms with the events of her youth that drove them apart, then by the time we meet her Monica is desperate for change. And it is at this point Joe enters her life.
A simple connection on a school trip soon develops into something more and their relationship is both a catalyst for change and a mirror in which Monica sees just how conflicted and at odds with herself her life has become.
Eva Verde has created a story that is powerful, painful and wholly believable. Themes of love, loss and cultural identity are woven together, held in place by strong multilayered characters and contemporary events. There is a genuine exploration of the motivations and experiences of each character, even those whose views are very hard to tolerate. No one is perfect, and everyone is flawed. And the book is all the better for that.
The story happens in real time, with a relatively compact timeline, a normal few months in the life of a family. But the exploration and unpicking of attitudes, events and feelings goes far beyond this. Eva Verde explores with sensitivity, wit and searing honesty the impact of generations on today’s lived experience.
This was a book that provoked every emotion. It made me gasp with shock and anger, it made me laugh and it made me cry. Beautifully written from a place of honesty and reflection, this one is a keeper.