Book Review: Going Back

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Going Back, by Rachael English, was for me an enjoyable trip down memory lane. It chronicles the life of Elizabeth, an Irish student in the 1980’s whose life is changed forever when she and a group of friends from university decide to spend a summer working in Boston, America.

The book is in two parts. The first covers the fateful summer of 1988, when Elizabeth turned twenty-one and met Danny, a handsome charmer with whom she fell in love. The second part is set in the present day, when her daughter makes the same trip to America where she falls ill, causing Elizabeth to fly to her bedside and return to the scenes of her past.

The whole tale revolves around a summer romance. It explores the impact of making decisions that seem right at the time, of not hurting those one cares about. It offers up a scenario where a memory will colour a life. Elizabeth acted sensibly but then, when things got tough (as life always will from time to time) her memories become ‘what ifs’ and she allowed her regrets to fester. The premise of the story is that it may be better to allow the heart to rule rather than the head, and that secrets are damaging.

With my experience of growing up in Ireland the narrative, expectations and claustrophobia of family were all too familiar. Although I never chose to spend a summer in America I knew plenty of students who did. As the author points out, before mobile phones and Skype it was possible to get away, to disappear and become, even if only temporarily, someone else. It was possible to put aside the guilt and fear of letting down the family, of making mammy cry, and to be one’s self.

It is not, however, a one dimensional tale. Although Elizabeth acted as she thought best, she had friends who were less circumspect and whose lives also progressed through trials and tribulations. To me, these lives seemed more real. Given their ages and personalities, I struggled to believe that all would have been happy ever after for Danny and Elizabeth had she stayed in Boston. I suspect she would merely have harboured different regrets, perhaps about her nice, safe, Irish boyfriend. Knowing the Irish as I do, she would also likely have felt guilt about abandoning her parents. There is rarely only one road to choose and some people will always find happiness elusive. Elizabeth was cited as being uncomfortable admitting to being happy.

The book is, however, a romance. Whilst the characters, scenarios and passage of time are all well written and believable, this is essentially a feel good book about one true love that survives. For fans of love overcoming adversity, it is well worth adding to your bookshelves. A story to curl up with when a little gentle escapism is desired.

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