RATING: VERY GOOD
Things are going from bad to worse for Joe. When Rosie fails to get into the secondary school her parents wanted, another problem crops up. The secondary school where Rosie is supposed to go doesn’t only have a bad reputation, but it is in the lower standard. Penny and Joe don’t want Rosie to go there, but as much as Joe tries to find a solution, there is nothing to do. Then Penny comes with an alternative. Scott, the man he is seeing, is a headmaster in a boarding school, and he has suggested Rosie and Jack go there as day boys, and Penny and the children will live in the house he has while he moves to the headmaster house. That will mean they will have to move to Hurrogate, hundreds of miles from London. First, Joe refuses, but then he comes round, and despite the children’s protests and tears, they finally move.
Joe feels the separation intensely, and it is worse when Penny asks him not to phone the children every night as they get too upset. Then something else happens. Penny calls. The children have run away, leaving a note, saying that they are going home. Joe looks everywhere, and the divorce club dads help him, but even there is footage of Jack and Rosie in Harrogate’s station and King’s Cross, there is no trace of them. Then Joe is struck by a brainwave, and he finally finds them in the air cupboard of their family home.
Penny arrives, and she stays in Joe’s house. When the children are upstairs, tucked up in bed, Penny tells Joe that they will talk and she gives him a kiss on the lips. Joe is hopeful that they will sort out things, and Penny will get back with him. Yet, the next day Penny seems to have changed her mind again, and she tells the children in no uncertain terms that they will have to go back to Harrogate. The children cry, and Joe is almost in tears, but he knows he has to support Penny. So when the car pulls out of his drive, he is overcome by terrible grief and pain.
The next thing he knows he is on the roof of Lewisham’s shopping centre car park, and he is with Fiona. She is quite vile with him, telling him that Penny doesn’t love him and never did. Then she tells him that the only way to finish his predicament is by jumping off the roof like all dreams end. Joe is torn. He doesn’t know what is true and what isn’t. If this is reality and he jumps to his death, Penny and the children will feel let down, and he will cause them grief he doesn’t want them to suffer. Yet, if what Fiona is saying is true, he really wants to finish this horrible dream. In the end, he jumps and when he wakes up, the first thing he sees is Penny’s face.
Fiona was right. This was a dream, and he learns that he had been assaulted and had been out for three hours. The people who found him was the divorce club dads, and he doesn’t feel happier than see the men who had been his best support in his horrible dream. Joe is discharged and sent home where he is welcomed by his children, and he couldn’t have been happier. Joe decides to be open with Penny and tells him about Bella and his temptations, but Penny is quite understanding. Joe even talks to Bella when the woman seems intent to pursue him,and he tells him that she is losing her time, and I am glad he finally learnt his lesson.
The epilogue is a year after the events. Joe has kept in contact with Van, Paul, and Stewart, who have become good friends, and they are enjoying a camp trip like the one he enjoyed in his dream. Unlike in his dream, Van and Paul have a girlfriend, and Stewart has his children with him, and naturally he has Penny. The last scene is the friends, their women and children walking on the beach and finding a heart drawn in the sun with the initials J.C and P.C. Rosie thinks her dad has drawn the heart with his initials and Penny’s, but Joe swears he hasn’t, and then he notices the scent of Fiona’s perfume, and he thinks that this is her way to give him her absolution and blessing.
I really loved the book. I felt sorry for both Penny and Joe. Yet, eventually I felt more sympathetic for Joe, who has the hardest time. I also like that touch of humour with Fiona and her apparitions. It was a very creative idea of exploring the subject of what might have been.