The Five Year Plan
We have all been guilty of reading more than our fair share of ‘fluff’ during this time of quarantine, and thank goodness. Sometimes you need something lighter to get you over the reading slump that often accompanies such uncertain times. The Five Year Plan by Carla Burgess definitely fits that bill – the characters are likable, but flawed, the meet cute is charming, and the will-they-or-won’t-they factor is intriguing. But while the beginning seems to churn with potential, the middle flags and the ending feels a bit rushed to feel like a true payoff.
As our story opens, we meet Orla, a successful journalist living in London and finally landing her dream job at a national newspaper. But she is still haunted by the one that got away, namely, one Aiden Byrne, wildlife photographer and environmentalist. So when a personal invitation arrives at her desk to attend the opening of his show, she is torn. What if she still has all those feelings? Deciding professionalism should win out, she decides to attend (looking drop-dead gorgeous, just in case). The minute their eyes lock, she is thrust right back into the love she felt for this wild soul only five years before. She races out of the building before he can corner her with more uncomfortable silences and sidelong glances. But as she lands safely on the Tube on the way home – bam! – there he is. Out of breath, and right next to her. No escape now.
At this juicy plot twist, the author then thrusts us backwards in time, to when our two lovers first met. Orla is just a cub reporter at a local newspaper in a small town, and Aiden is the first story she will be able to write on her own. Aiden is living out of a tent photographing local otters. On her way down to the riverbank, she injures herself, which inadvertently allows this hunky free spirit into her life.
There is much time spent on whether friends can be lovers without strings, and the importance of Orla pursuing her five year plan of making it big and moving to London, which tends to slow down the pace. And when they do get together, we’re given very little detail, and very little time to enjoy their happiness, which makes it harder to invest in them getting back together later on. The author is going for a second-chance romance, but spends so long on the first time that it doesn’t matter as much when we get to the second.
Orla and Aiden have an easy friendship and chemistry and that makes it impossible not to love them. She is impish but determined, he is untamed yet gentle. Their conversations and even their disputes are charming and witty, but often too drawn out. Like Hamlet, I kept thinking “The Lady doth protest too much.” And then when we – finally – get to the HEA, it seems like a let-down because the author immediately fast forwards us five more years into the future.
Overall, I liked The Five Year Plan, but not enough get giddy about it. Still, you could do much worse than kill a few hours with these two, and if you love the outdoors, the sub-plots about enjoying nature and protecting its future will appeal to you. It’s the perfect kind of book you can take with you to the beach and pick up and put down at your leisure, but not squirm about wanting to know what comes next.