Reviewed by Cressida McLaughlin
Every Time We Say Goodbye opens at a graveside, as Marianne, mother to two young children Kate and Andrew, buries her husband. Marianne’s shock at having to face a life bringing up her children without their father is clear but, while others grieve around her, Marianne’s own feelings are more ambiguous. It soon becomes obvious that not everything was rosy in the Thomson family even before Dominic’s untimely death. Dominic’s behaviour in the last years of their marriage was erratic and increasingly violent, and Marianne, in some ways relieved that he is gone, focuses all her attention on supporting her children and helping them cope with the loss of their father.
Marianne has a strong support network around her in the shape of her two best friends Helen and Jo, who she has been inseparable from since they grew up together in a children’s home, and live-in mother-in-law Dot. But as Marianne tries to secure a future for her family, revelations about Dominic’s life shatter her already unsettled world. As troubled as she thought her late husband was, it seems she didn’t know the whole story. Marianne is forced to make some hard decisions, and every time she thinks things will begin to settle down, a new revelation forces her to think again.
Marianne’s friends Jo and Helen have their own stories. Helen and Johnny are a tight-knit unit, celebrating a wedding anniversary and running a successful business together, but even with this strong grounding, Helen has a crisis of confidence. Jo is also struggling with her place in life, worrying that she isn’t a good wife to her incommunicative husband, or a good role model to her children. When her elder daughter mirrors a habit she thought she had hidden, Jo is forced to look at her behaviour and make some changes. Dot, too, has to deal with the choices her son made and how they have affected her grandchildren’s lives, while also grieving for him.
The characters in Every Time We Say Goodbye are brilliantly real, from sullen Greg, to warm, vivacious Helen, to Kate and Andrew, who are funny and frustrating and vulnerable. Colette Caddle’s portrayal of the two grieving children and their coping mechanisms is touching and heartbreaking. Each character is allowed the space to develop, and while Marianne’s story is central I felt that everyone was equally important; everyone has believable, human motives behind what they do.
Writing this review has made me realise how much is packed into this novel - I haven’t even mentioned the love story! In the midst of all her troubles, Marianne is offered a shot at future happiness, which leads to her thinking about her past, and what went wrong in her relationship with Dominic. The flashbacks are spaced throughout the book, building up memories as the present-day story moves ahead and filling in the gaps. The love story has enough twists and turns that the reader doesn’t get complacent, and the resolution is earned.
There were a couple of things I felt were missing. One was more information about Marianne, Helen and Jo’s upbringing in the children’s home. It is explained as the reason behind the strength of their friendship and some of the decisions that are made, but I was so fascinated by it that I wanted to know more. I was also intrigued by Dominic’s story, and while this is a central theme, I felt there could have been a greater explanation of what led Dominic to the situation he ended up in. Conversely, I found some of the conversations a bit repetitive. When Marianne finds out something else about Dominic, she tells it to her friends and the reader gets the same information again. This occasionally made the writing feel a bit clunky, and slowed the pace down.
Overall, I thought Every Time We Say Goodbye was a warm, touching novel about coping with grief, the hardships that life can throw at you and the support of friends and family. I may have felt that there were a couple of elements missing, but in a book that is so packed full of wonderful characters and human stories, maybe I’m asking a little bit too much.