Orla is a young journalist, living in London at the start of her book. Aiden is a wildlife photographer/activist, and an old flame of hers. When he comes into town and they run into each other at an exhibition for some of his wildlife photography, the past gets dredged up for them both, and they find that they’ve never gotten over each other.
In other words, after the first chapter, which was a very good opener, we take a deep dive into their past, which besides the wildlife scenes was rather boring and repetitive. Honestly, I couldn’t stand a good chunk of this book. All the characters are heteronormative and Orla and Aiden’s relationship is kind of gross in a borderline abusive way. Orla struggles to make her intentions and emotions clear throughout the course of the book to avoid hurting others’ feelings. Aiden is pushy but also wishy-washy, which is a very weird combination. Orla seems to think he’s laid back, but he really isn’t. He continuously tells her what she should think and what she should do, then turns around and says, ‘why don’t you tell me what you want? Why don’t you speak what’s on your mind?’
Meanwhile, her first boss is rather sexist, calling her weird sexist names and asking for coffee, not thinking she is capable of going off on her own. I get the impression, too, that it’s not even that she’s in training but rather that she’s a woman. Orla’s mom backs up this claim, talking about how she shouldn’t be going into the woods by herself looking for strange men. However, none of this is talked about as a problem, just as the way of the world. After she considers this, Aiden continues to gas-light this idea, saying how he wasn’t a serial killer and wasn’t a bad guy after all, even though he continues to show up at her house and spends a lot of his time convincing her to spend time with him, and to be comfortable being naked around him.
Their sex is terrible. It’s the shortest sex ever, and they both seem so thrilled about it. The lead up is Aiden talking about how good he is in bed for the longest time while she confused because he continues to gaslight her, telling her that they are not in a relationship because he can’t do relationships.
Flash back to the future, and after five years, Orla isn’t any better at making decisions. There seems to have been very little character growth for her. She continues to be obsessed with Aiden, but now the rest of the world is as well. Apparently this reality treats wildlife photographers and activists as hotter commodities that our reality, and everybody is trying to get his autograph at every turn he takes. Aiden is now better at playing hard to get, and alternates between begging Orla to be clear with her emotions (in other words begging her to say she can’t live without him) and giving her the cold shoulder so she doubts his interest is genuine. Despite his talk about Orla not being clear with her intentions, Aiden is not often clear that he wants to be in a relationship with her ever. Then he suggests that she should just leave her job and come live with him and be his PERSONAL ASSISTANT. What a terrible and heteronormative idea. However, despite her protests, Orla seems to think this is sweet, and eventually decides to come live with him.
Then they get married, and have two kids. Apparently giving birth is just as fast as having sex, and she pushes out each baby in under and hour, start to finish. They are beautiful and gorgeous, and how could she have not wanted them for so long! Then the final twist, Aiden has bad news. Orla immediately panics that he’s going to leave her after she’s just given birth, so clearly even after five years of their being married, she still doesn’t feel secure with him. But no, it’s just that his family is coming by to see the new baby (which is bad news why?). And of course, no talk about Orla’s job, because although she was a career driven woman at the beginning of the book, a career doesn’t really matter to women anymore after we get married, right?
So yeah, insecurity, gaslighting, and heteronormativity abound. Had the nature themes been a little stronger and not shown as so out there and odd, I might have been able to enjoy the book more, but there were too many little digs that made this book difficult to enjoy.
I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.