Having devoured, Happily Ever After just two weeks ago, I was thrilled when HarperCollins sent me a copy of Harriet Evans’ latest page-turner, Not Without You.
Through carefully weaved chapters written from the perspectives of both female leads, Sophie Leigh and Eve Noel, we see each character become victims of their own glamorous success in some dreadfully painful ways. Despite living their dream decades apart, the reader soon learns of the connection between them as the plots of each are intricately threaded through the use of carefully placed, indicative narrative clues as well as Evans’ superb use of language and form.
The book is opened by a very well-crafted prologue, which is unlike that of any ‘Chic-Lit‘ I have read. From the perspective of 1950’s icon, Even Noel, we are thrown into the catastrophic event that haunts her life for decades to follow. I was in awe of Harriet’s writing style here, as she builds an opening from complex sentences, deliberately creating a sense of the past through her use of language and her ability to employ a traditional tone to her writing. It is a result of this prologue, that the narrative voices of each character are so easily recognisable throughout the novel, as this skill is perfectly and expertly employed throughout.
We are taken on to the life of Sophie Leigh, Hollywood A-Lister with the glamorous lifestyle, attentive assistants and executive meetings we expect. We learn, throughout her chapters, that she has hidden depths in her character, which draw us in and cause us to anticipate change. She idolises star of the 50’s, Eve Noel and we see her spending her solitary nights watching ‘old films’, in the emptiness of her seemingly enriched life, in Eve’s old house, which she purchased almost in tribute. It is through Sophie that we learn of the disappearance of Eve Noel, under mysterious circumstances given her popularity and fame.
As Eve Noel’s chapters progress, we see how the industry has damaged her…hurt her in ways that no one outside the world of film could possibly empathise with. She is used and abused by the ‘big guys at the top’, who, despite recognising her talent for acting, cannot fail to take advantage of their power and her natural, young, innocent beauty. In a powerful scene, we witness Eve at one of her most vulnerable times: alone in a car with, Mr Baxter (the Head of Monumental Films). The scene is intense, as we expect Eve to suffer an incredibly brutal attack, but Harriet Evans carefully uses the opportunity to highlight Eve’s strength of character as well as her instinct to detach herself from the painful truth of situations that may cause her emotional or physical pain…this links perfectly to the prologue.
As the lives of the two actresses weave carefully together, the narrative begins to move in deep and sinister directions, becoming mysterious and dark in places, taking on the pace of a mystery or thriller. I was drawn into this very quickly, snatching each spare minute of my day to read on in anticipation. Under the mystery and tension however, remained the burning sensation of romance, which contributed hugely to the emotional depth of the novel. Both characters had long spanning romances, drawing through from the beginning to the very end of the novel in Eve’s case; this was a wonderful and refreshing change to the ‘come and go’ romances of other literature within the same genre that I have read.
I can say, with utter confidence in the statement, that throughout my degree in English, my role as a teacher of English and Literature and throughout my love of reading that I have simply never come across a novel that was so engaging and enthralling on so many levels. The narrative was crafted and layered so superbly, that no aspect suffered at the success of another. The development of characters, use of language and ability to weave together the intricate lives of the women and their co-stars were evenly exceptional, bringing the characters together for the splendid resolution, during which the depth of character created throughout could be truly appreciated.
I would recommend this book, as well as Harriet Evans as a writer, to anyone who enjoys chic-lit, romance, mystery, suspense or, quite simply, a well-written narrative developed with the use of expertly employed skill.
It is within Not Without You that I have seen Harriet Evans not only as a writer but as an artist.