The novel follows Fern and Elliott after they meet. Fern attends a pottery class with Jules, her best friend, as a present for the latter. Elliott goes to Wales to talk to an estate agent about selling his father’s house, and then he visits the man in the nursing home.
The most important thing in the novel is these two people’s reflections. Fern keeps thinking about her two sons, who are now at university, and how she losing them, and wonders if she will be able to cope when it is just her and Jack. I have the feeling that Jack is not Fern’s all-time love. We don’t know when she met him or how, but we get the impression that she married him because he was a good man, and also practical and dependable. Fern also thinks about Elliott and her mixed feelings; she longs to see him again, but at the same time she is afraid.
On his part, Elliott isn’t having a good day as he has to deal with the house where he grew up. He wishes he could leave it as it is, but he and his brother Dan have decided that selling the house will allow them to pay for their father’s nursing home. After dealing with the estate agent, he visits his father, but it is a short and sad visit. Elliott doesn’t know what his father remembers or what he doesn’t, and he ponders about how ungrateful children are, and how selfish he was just like Chloe is behaving towards him. After the nursing home, he goes to a street where we learn he had his first sexual experience with an older woman who he worked for as a gardener. We understand that this episode was important for him because it taught him how to treat Fern when he met her. The last visit is to the hospital and it is through his memories, which he tells a stranger, that we learn what happened in the past.
We understand that Elliott and Fern were very much in love and had even rented a place together. Yet, Fern was eager to know what would happen to them after university, and her certainty about wanting him in her life made Elliott freak out. He loved Fern, but he was afraid of committing. So whenever Fern brought up the topic, they argued. Then one day when she had a terrible time with her tutor, who slated her work, they had another row when she mentioned what Elliott was afraid for. Elliot longed to take her into his arms, but he was paralysed, and then Fern decided to go and spend a few days with her parents’. Elliott wanted her to change her mind or return after just leaving, but she didn’t. She didn’t even call for two days. Then on the third day he was at the university club, and there was Meryl, who he knew liked him, and as they drank, he found her more and more enticing. When she kissed him, he knew he wanted her and took her home. What he didn’t know is that Fern was coming back as she missed him too much and wanted to give him a surprise. And they both got a surprise when she found him in bed with another woman. Then Fern ran out of the flat, and then Elliott went after her. They talked when he caught up with her, but that was their end.
We learn that Elliott kept seeing Meryl because she was available, but he didn’t love her. Then she announced she was pregnant, so he knew he had to marry her. However, she had a miscarriage, but he still felt he had to marry her. The miscarriage, though, changed Meryl, who blamed him for the baby they lost, and even when they had their daughter, nothing fixed that gap. Now at present Elliott and Meryl are getting a divorce, and as he looks back, he knows that he made the most terrible mistake of his life. He ended up with the wrong woman because of his uncertainties, and he wonders what his life would have been like with Fern, but it is too late.
What he wants is to have the chance to speak to Fern and put the past to rest. He texts her to meet in Paddington, and she simply replies with an okay. I wonder if they will eventually meet. I hope so, because that should be the climax of the novel. If they don’t meet, it will a big let-down.