“It was not in her nature to be illogical but there was something about being next to the empty flat, yet still so full of Elena, that troubled her. She half expected to open her own door and see Elena suddenly open hers just a fraction until she’d made sure it was Harriet, her white hair – whatever the hour – in its perfect chignon, beckoning her to look a piece of jewellery, a book she’d discovered, fetch something from the shop on the corner, instructing her where to leave her latest black bin liner destined for a charity collector or lecturing her in her fractured accent on how to run her life.”
Author: Frankie McGowan Published: 2018 Pages: 310
A Single Journey revolves around Harriet, a woman who owns a jewellery stand at a market and who is barely getting by on the dwindling profits she is making. She rents a flat from her elderly neighbour, Elena, and although it’s somewhat falling apart, Elena is charging her next to nothing to stay there. Elena has always been a figure of great mystery to Harriet. She often tells stories from her past (being Russian and having lived in many places all across Europe), but every time she tells a tale, small details seem to change. Elena is always pleasant to Harriet, but Harriet wishes she could escape the life she is beginning to begrudge. But one day Elena suddenly dies and Harriet discovers that she has been made the sole beneficiary of her possessions. Saddened by her death, Harriet wants to use the money to open a jewellery shop in Elena’s name. But when some distant relatives from Berlin, whom Elena never mentioned, begin to claim that Harriet had coerced Elena into writing her into her will, Harriet is determined to prove she has done nothing wrong.
I have always loved books which dip into the past – they always add an air of mystery to the present because, usually, the characters are trying to find out about the past in order to understand the present. A few months ago I read Hotel on Shadow Lake which does the same thing. I think it’s interesting to see how someone’s past can mould them and shape the character you meet in the present. It’s also interesting what people choose to hide from their past, normally a factor which I think makes a character more dimensional and overall intriguing.
As a protagonist, Harriet was quite endearing. I felt her frustration at the situation she had somehow been thrown into, despite her lack of involvement in any of it. And Elena was just brilliant; she was funny and clever and the kind of character that you felt if you knew in real life, you would have a hard time not liking. I also really like Bebe, one of the women Harriet meets in Berlin. Bebe was a figure of strength throughout the novel and Harriet found that she was a solid and reliable person to depend upon. Even when everything got tough, Harriet could depend on Bebe and that added a nice touch to the novel as we all hope that we have friends like that. McGowan was very convincing at creating realistic relationships between the characters, not least from her plausible dialogue, I think the characters were definitely the biggest factor in why I loved this book so much.
I love the implications this novel made on the idea of the past and how it shapes who we become. But I think if I can take away anything from reading this novel, is that it’s surprising how many strangers you can rely on when you’re really in need. Even if you only have a tenuous link to someone else, if your end goal is the same, then an unbreakable bond can form and, together, you can become a force to be reckoned with.
Thank you to Endeavour Media for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.