Title: It Was Only Ever You
Author: Kate Kerrigan
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Price: Rs 499
Kate Kerrigan’s It Was Only Ever You is primarily a story of three women. Yes, their lives intersect because of a man, and yes, there’s a tangled love story. However, it is decidedly more than just the complicated romance the cover blurb leads you to assume. It is a story of passion, of dreams, of friendship, and yes, of love.
The blurb introduces the primary characters: Patrick Murphy, with “charm to burn and a singing voice to die for”; Rose, Patrick’s first great love who can “never forget him”; Ava, “the heiress with no self-confidence except on the dance floor”; and the feisty Sheila, a Holocaust orphan “hungry for success”. “Patrick Murphy’s heart belongs to only one of them. Which one will it be?” it asks.
This is the tricky bit.
The novel is a gorgeous trip into Ireland and New York of the 1950s with its vivid portrayal of the era of dance halls, swing bands and the beginning of rock and roll. It is also a portrait into the immigrant experience of the time, whether “settled” (Ava’s and Sheila’s families) or fresh off the plane (Patrick, for one), and a peep into what it meant to be a woman in the mid-20th century. For instance, the entitled, beautiful and stubborn Rose is faced with something she’s rarely encountered: A big fat “No!” from her parents. Ava’s mother is constantly plotting to “land” her daughter a husband. And Sheila is trying to build a career in the music industry. A common thread emerges through the narrative. Each of these women, in her own way, is attempting to make sense of — and bend — the “rules” she was given to suit her own needs. Patrick just happens to be in the centre of all this.
This is what I liked best about this book. The women are real, solid characters. You know who they are, what they want, and what they are willing to do to get it. More importantly, you also know the reasons behind their varied choices.
It is easy to sympathise with Sheila, who follows the half-boiled egg- tough-as-nails shell on the outside, gooey on the inside — trope common to the genre. Rose goes from being someone you want to roll your eyes at (at the very least) to her becoming someone you could tolerate, if not actually like. Ava takes the road to end up where you’d hoped she wouldn’t but secretly guessed she would, and comes across as a tiny bit manipulative along the way.
One problem is the implication that clothes can change your life. Ava’s one suit is offered up as her salvation in her own eyes, those of her mother, and even those around her. However, everyone knows you also need the shoes to go with it. Just ask Cinderella.
Given the strong women in this novel, it is a little surprising that Patrick’s character arc — to be generous — moves at a snail’s pace. Until the very end, Patrick comes across as someone with stars in his eyes, and very little in his head. He seems to be happy to bounce along, allowing life to throw him in whatever direction it pleases; tumbleweed in the desert, if you will. Until he doesn’t.
Patrick’s choice of “the one”, at the end of the novel, was my least favourite part of the book. I found it is also trite, and reminiscent of a certain kind of Hindi film that was popular in the 1990s. More annoyingly, it was the most logical conclusion, with no space for a workaround.
Overall, though, the writing in this latest offering from the Irish Kerrigan is both immersive and nostalgic, and the story moves along at a comfortable trot. It is a fun read, perfect for a weekend of relaxed reading; especially if you like historical romances.