All About Us – Tom Ellen

Regret is a funny concept.  Most of us have things in our lives we wish had panned out differently (that job we should have taken; the friendship we foolishly neglected; the night we should have stayed home but borrowed our mum’s car and crashed it in front of all the coolest kids at school… although that last one may just be me) and these thoughts niggle away in the background of our brains whenever life isn’t going quite to plan.  It is unsurprising therefore that over the years lots of films and novels have been dedicated to the concept of “what if”, to the point that the sliding door effect has almost become a genre of its very own. I probably wouldn’t have picked up All About Us by Tom Ellen had I not been given it as a gift, unfairly dismissing it as yet another hackneyed reworking of a somewhat stale narrative device, but I would have been wrong.  This is a brilliant book.
Ben is having a really tough time.  Mourning the loss of his mother, uninspired by his career and struggling to connect meaningfully with his wife Daphne, he finds himself looking back to “the one that got away”, his university friend Alice.  How different would life be if he had hooked up with her instead? On the brink of committing adultery, a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger on Christmas Eve finds Ben thrown into a tumultuous time-travelling trip with a chance to reconsider the decisions that have led him down this perilous path. I certainly have moments when I wish I had made different choices (not least about my mum’s car) and reading this was a chance to live vicariously through the protagonist as he seeks to discover whether the grass is truly greener on the other side.
I think the marketing of this novel does it a disservice, not least that it was promoted as a “festive treat” – whilst it is set in December with certain holiday references, it didn’t feel weird reading it in February. It also isn’t the predictably dull romance the cover made me assume it would be – whilst it draws on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens as a basic structural premise, it remains original enough to surprise and delight. The characters are well-developed, Ben is both likeable and relatable, and the narrative pulls you in until you can’t put the book down. In some small way reminiscent of Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library (which explores in detail the myriad decisions we make every day that can change our destiny) Ellen has produced a creative take on the type of mid-life slump I can absolutely empathise with.

I don’t want to provide any spoilers so I will simply say the ending is touching and uplifting without feeling cringeworthy (unlike the car story, which ended with a walk of shame down the school corridor which was a cringe-fest I will never live down). I have learnt an important lesson about not judging a book by its cover and will most certainly keep an eye out for this author. This is one to read for sure.

Author: Bookaholicbex

Book-nerd with a passion for all things literary. If only real life would stop getting in the way of reading...

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