Many thanks to Putnam Books for providing my free copy – all opinions are my own.
This is almost a love story. But it’s not as simple as that.
Ellis and Michael are twelve-year-old boys when they first become friends, and for a long time it is just the two of them, cycling the streets of Oxford, teaching themselves how to swim, discovering poetry, and dodging the fists of overbearing fathers. And then one day this closest of friendships grows into something more. But then we fast-forward a decade or so, to find that Ellis is married to Annie, and Michael is nowhere in sight. Which leads to the question: What happened in the years between?
From the opening quote I knew I was going to like this one. Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite artists and I just spent an embarrassing amount of money on my copy of Letters of Vincent van Gogh, but I digress. This is a tiny book with a big heart that is told in two distinct parts: one perspective is Michael’s and the other, Ellis’. Michael and Ellis grew up together in Oxford and were inseparable. Their friendship eventually develops into something more, but then Ellis marries the girl of his dreams, Annie. The three remain tight knit friends until Michael feels the need to move on. In 1996, Ellis is a forty-five-year-old widower who hasn’t recovered from losing his wife. He always wanted to become an artist but instead works the night shift at a car factory. And what happened with Michael after all these years?
Winman is a powerful writer, as I experienced every possible emotion one can have from this book. The characters are written with so much depth; the setting is picturesquely vivid and descriptive. It’s a gorgeous, incredibly moving book. I absolutely loved that art plays an important underlying theme: Ellis and his mother and their discussions of Van Gogh, the beautiful painting they kept in their home, and how Ellis longed to become an artist but his father wouldn’t stand for it. Michael’s perspective is so honest and raw, I could not put this book down. This book might be short but it’s layered with complexity covering friendship, love, and family. Winman is an audacious, exquisite talent. Highly recommended.
My rating is 4 out of 5 stars!
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