Patchwork Paradise is a lovely novel that really feels like a story of two halves. Oliver and Samuel have been together since they were sixteen, each other’s ‘one and only’, and very much in love. Now twenty-seven, they live in a large dream house in Antwerp, have good jobs and are looking forward to their dream wedding in a few weeks’ time. They have a close circle of friends too – Cleo and Imran, who are an on/off couple, and Thomas. Every Saturday the friends go to a bar, called the Nine Barrels, and drink and dance the night away.
Patchwork Paradise opens before one such Saturday night, only before Ollie gets to go to the bar, he must accompany Sam to an opening night at the gallery where Sam is manager. Ollie is going because it is important to Sam, but they agree to go to the bar after. The opening is successful and although tired, Sam and Ollie meet the others, as always, at the Nine Barrels. They have a great night, looking forward to being at home together, when tragedy strikes and life changes for all of them in an instant.
The author makes sure we care about these people in the short time before this life-altering event. From this point on the novel is a beautifully sensitive piece of writing about grief, and trying to make sense of life after you lose the person you thought was your forever.
The first half of the book is about Ollie and his friends trying to deal with this tragedy. Ollie is almost catatonic with grief and buries himself in the home that he and Sam made together. I think I spent the first 30% of the story with tears threatening. Anyone who has lost someone they love, but especially a partner will, I’m sure, recognise the truth in the way Indra Vaughn conveys Ollie’s grief and loss. The novel covers the first cruel months, the passing of their wedding date, first Christmas and then further – the return to work, thinking about dating and normal life.
Had the novel stopped with Ollie’s recovery, I would have been satisfied, as the story of his early grief is so sensitively and believably written. However, this is a romance and Ollie eventually approaches the minefield of dating at his friends’ insistence. He has never attempted this before, having been part of a couple with Sam since he was sixteen. His journey includes internet dating, first time kissing another person, and the difficulty of knowing when you are ready to move on. Another plus for this author – she side steps the often used trope of grieving, dragged back to dating, ‘wham’ all is forgotten and the MC is in love again. She also avoids the ‘cute internet dating stories’ – I have read this approach many times and it jars, belittling the great love that has been lost.
I can say – as it is in the blurb for the book – that Ollie’s second chance is closer to hand than he knows in the form of his friend, gorgeous bi-sexual Thomas, who has loved him since the night they met. The book begins to feel like another novel when Thomas finds he has a son, and at first, I was disappointed with the direction I thought things were going. However, the stories mesh into grief and renewal, but retain the sensitivity and believable story arc.
This, from the last chapter when Thomas and Ollie finally go on a proper date nearly two years since the initial tragedy, is an example of the little touches that made this novel resonate for me.
Thomas took me to Het Gerecht, a restaurant where Sam and I used to go for special occasions, but I didn’t tell him that. In a way that made it nicer to be there, as if Sam were looking down on us and giving his blessing. I sent him some kind thoughts and then gently pushed him from my mind.
I loved Patchwork Paradise; it is a gentle exploration of human emotions, and the effects on the lives of those left behind after a tragedy. The secondary characters are well written and allow the story to include different takes on love and loss. This is in no way a maudlin or depressing story, although at times it’s very sad.