Before we begin, let me say that I loved this book. I hated – HATED – the ending, but in the best way possible.
Hadley is a college sophomore and leading a fairly staid, predictable, if not slightly dull life. She lives at home, where she helps her parents take care of her young brother. It isn’t that life isn’t good; Hadley’s life is almost idyllic to a certain extent. Her parents are happily married, her brother precocious, and she’s one of those people destined to lead a happy life.
When the opportunity to study in Lausanne, Switzerland, arises, Hadley applies at the last second. She fears leaving her family in the lurch because she knows they rely on her. But her mother urges her to apply, and before Hadley has time to regret or second-guess anything, she’s heading to Lausanne, where she plans to study literature. She has a particular affinity for American literature, and an even more particular affinity for Ernest Hemingway, whose first – and perhaps most beloved – wife was named Hadley.
On her first night, she comes across a gorgeous, older American man whose casual “Take it easy” makes her heart whirl. We know – even if Hadley may not – that she will see this man again, so when it turns out that he is her professor in a Hemingway class, we aren’t terribly surprised.
But how does Joel feel about Hadley? She senses that he’s interested, yet he always seems to be a few paces out of reach. Fortunately, Kristina, a beautiful Danish girl, shows up and moves in next to Hadley in the dorm. Hadley is as taken with Kristina as she is with Joel. Kristina is exotic and worldly, and she has a confidence that Hadley envies as much as she does Kristina’s bra size. Kristina confides in Hadley that she’s having an affair with a married man, and while a little shocked, Hadley feels more curiosity than anything.
Another new friend is Hugo, an elderly Swiss man who quickly becomes an important confidante. Hadley’s life in Lausanne is coming together, and, even more significantly, Hadley herself is coming together. She is discovering who she is, and Lausanne is as important a factor in this self-realization as Hadley’s new friends.
But then …
Hadley has to rely on two of her friends to help her understand what happened, why it happened, and who might be at fault. She is intellectually prepared for this, but not emotionally. The neat outline she crafted for her life begins to veer off course as she opens herself up to feelings she had not previously experienced. Her calm, orderly life did not have a Kristina in it, or a Joel or a Hugo. But it does in Lausanne, and Hadley has to adjust to what this new world means for her.
The mystery at the heart of the novel sends Hadley on a mission for truth, and as she uncovers those truths, she slowly reveals to herself – and to others – the person she is becoming.
Emylia Hall’s writing pulls you into this story and does not let you go until the last period on the last page. And even then, you find yourself going back to Lausanne and Hadley, wondering what would have happened if … if …
You will adore Hadley, for all of her faults and occasional too-good-to-be-true-ness. She is a young woman eager to learn, not just about Hemingway but about her friends, Lausanne, and herself. She knows she has been presented with an opportunity, and she will not squander it. Joel is an enigma for much of the novel, although, like Hadley, you will realize perhaps too late that you understood him all along. I liked him so much.
Hugo is adorable, if not somewhat frustrating. He understands how the story will end for Hadley, and we are grateful that he is there to help her navigate her way through the events that befall her. Like Joel, Kristina is also a bit mysterious. She is everything Hadley is not, and the one complaint I have about this book is why Hadley is so entranced with Kristina. Is it that she’s just different from everyone else? She performs a favor for Hadley early on in their friendship, but surely that minor moment is not what binds Hadley to her? She seems selfish; she withholds as a means of control, and I wish Hadley could have seen that in her. Hadley’s response to Kristina seems extreme, yet it is that response that shapes Hadley more than anything else.
Now, about the ending. It is gut wrenching, and I kept hoping that I wasn’t reading what I was reading. I wanted a different ending, even though the ending I wished Emylia Hall wrote is not an ending that in any way was possible. This novel ends the way it has to end – there is no other option – but oh how I wanted something else.
I loved this book. Loved it. And you will, too.