Desert Isle Keeper
This is the first title by Nicola Haken that I have read, indeed I had not heard of this author until recently and I’m so glad to have discovered her. Broken is not an easy read, but it is very well written and the three-dimensional characters ensure an enjoyable and intensely emotional time for the reader.
The mind is life’s most powerful tool…and the most fragile
Broken is, without doubt, one of best romantic novels I have read covering the difficult area of depressive mental illness.
Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
Theo Davenport is a twenty-eight-year-old from Manchester and even though things haven’t always gone his way, he has humour, empathy and a burning ambition to work in publishing. So he is very nervous when he turns up to start as a junior at a large publisher’s Holden House. In his words: I am a swan as I make my way to the middle of the floor; kicking and struggling beneath the surface, poised and confident above.
Mike, the boss of his section reveals himself to be an idiot, but in his first week Theo learns a lot of gossip about the apparently promiscuous owner of the publishing house, James Holden, and makes tentative good friends. To cement these growing work friendships he arranges to go out after work to show them Manchester’s famous Canal Street and he also invites along his best friend, Tess. During the evening, he meets a gorgeous stranger in the toilets and goes back to his friends very flustered about his brief encounter –
“You look like you’ve just had sex.”…
“I have not just had sex,”… I did just make an arse out of myself, though. I bumped into the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in the toilet and just stared at him like some kind of moron. Think David Gandy but younger”…
Later, when Theo is a little drunk and happy, the same stranger propositions him in another nightclub and he is swept away by something about this gorgeous man – apart from the obvious. So swept away in fact, that not only does he give him a blowjob in the toilets, he goes home to the man’s apartment and they sleep together.
As always, Theo tells everything to best friend Tess. She is astounded by the fact he has hooked up with this man in the first place, but to sleep with him as well… it is all totally out of character. Theo is an open hearted person, he is without guile, loyal to his friends and loves his family with affectionate irritation. He is also a decent self-published writer, pretty broke with dreams of writing success and developing a career where he can eventually help struggling authors like himself. Of course, the big boss, James Holden, turns out to be Theo’s mystery man.
James Holden is an enigma. He is unbelievably rude and arrogant to Theo yet keeps coming back to help him or talk to him. So, at this point, I thought I had a gay Fifty Shades of Grey to read – indeed there are several oblique references to that novel. With due deference to those who admire that series, I am pleased to say this book takes a dramatic turn away from that overdone trope. The author doesn’t exactly subvert the billionaire / employee storyline, but she focuses the second half of the book on the area of mental illness, which makes Broken a much better novel.
There is a clue that this will be the case – the preface is the short, haunting inner dialogue of someone in the act of committing suicide. The emotional punch of this short preface fades as you begin the novel, but I warn you it comes back with a vengeance later on. I thought the book would feel like two distinct halves but by the end, I realised the reader has to go through the normal, the sweet and the romantic dreams in order to appreciate the devastation of an illness like Bipolar disorder.
I have read so many books for review, which is often a pleasure too, that I don’t cry over novels very easily any more. I cried at several places in this one:
Heartbreak is uncertainty.
Heartbreak feels like your entire world is crumbling above your head, and all you can do is sit back and wait for it to crush you.
And, of course, where do you go when the world crumbles around you?
“You need some rest. Do you want to stay at mine tonight?”
“No, I , uh…” I need my Mum. “Can you take me to Mum’s?”
From that point on I was a mess for nearly a whole chapter.
I have one tiny, tiny niggle. The author is English and the plot is set totally in Manchester, but there is a feeling that certain things have been ‘Americanised’. There is no need for this anymore. I enjoy looking up Americanisms or places I may not know in books written by American writers. I think authors / editors should allow US readers the same pleasure where English authors are concerned.
Nicola Haken has either personal experience of this form of mental illness or has done some wonderful research. The writing is truthful, although as I said, it’s not an easy read; but you want these characters to be together so much. There is a happy ending – maybe more a happy for now, with hope for forever. A trite happy conclusion would have ruined this touching, funny and harrowing story, which I highly recommend.