Things are now a bit clearer. The unnamed woman is Steph, and while at a dinner with Mal, her husband, one of their friends badger them about children. Then to Steph’s shock and horror, Mal speaks up and tells everybody that he already has a seven-year-old son, Leo, who lives with his mother. Then Steph uncomfortably says that the mother is a friend of Mal’s, and since she wanted a baby so bad, they only agreed that she could use Mal as a sperm donor. We know that this isn’t the whole truth, and I have the hunch that what happened was that Steph can’t have children, and somehow Nova was going to be their surrogate mother, but then she decided to keep the baby. I think the situation is more complex than that. Mal tells Steph whether she feels guilty because he does, so I wonder what they did to Nova, and we also know from the prologue that Mal and Nova did have an affair. I feel sorry for this couple. We don’t know much about Steph, but I have the impression that she is not happy, and nor is Mal. I can’t understand their sense of marriage as there seems to be a big chasm between them. We know that Steph keeps secrets, and it is clear that Mal doesn’t tell her everything. What kind of marriage is this?
The next part of the book shows us the relationship between Nova and Mal since they were small children. Nova lived with her parents and her sister, and Mal and his family were their next door neighbours. Since the other people in the neighbourhood rejected them for either Nova’s family’s African heritage or Mal’s family’s problematic situation, the two families became almost family. Mal’s father was in prison for five years, and the day he returned from prison, Mal felt that he didn’t love him. Years later when his father died, his mother went through some hard times, fighting against her mental problems. She tried to commit suicide several times, and it was Nova’s parents who discovered her or stopped her most of the times. The last time the woman tried to take her own life, Mal and Nova were fourteen, and Mal’s sister, Victoria, just a child. Nova’s parents talked to the children, explaining that Mal’s uncle had offered to take them in and paid for boarding school. In the end Mal tells Nova’s mother that he won’t go as he needs to stay with his mum, but Victoria will.
Then we learn about Nova going to Oxford and Mal visiting. He is studying in London, so he often visits Nova. In one visit something almost happens when they share a bed. Nova wants him to be her first, and it is clear that he wants her too, but he stops at the last minute for some reason. It is after this that Nova comes to realize that she is in love with Mal, and he plans to tell her the next time she sees him. So when she blurts out she loves him, he takes her words as the declaration of a friend, and then he throws himself into a speech about how he contradicted a girl in his course when she claimed that a man and a woman couldn’t be friends, and he defended his opinion, explaining that he and Nova were best friends, and he didn’t plan for that to change ever. That, I imagine, gave Nova her answer. I really don’t know what was going through Mal’s mind back then. He is a strange man, or at least, that is the impression we get from Steph’s and Nova’s perspectives. I wonder why at the time he didn’t pursue Nova when it is clear that he was attracted to her. I don’t know how to feel about this triangle formed by Mal, Steph, and Nova. The background story of Mal and Nova is sad but at the same time the notion of them being so close as they grew up is lovely. I would be rooting for them if it wasn’t because I feel sorry for Steph. I wonder how she came to marry Mal. I would like to know more about Steph as I have the feeling that there is so much more about her.