Beautiful Messy Love
Harper Collins 2017
I own a copy, courtesy of the author/ publisher
Earlier this year, I received a parcel at work. It was wrapped in red paper and tied up with a red and white ribbon. Inside was a copy of Tess Woods' new book, Beautiful Messy Love-- pre-release-- and a dozen or so red rose petals. There was also a handwritten card from Tess, which to this day, still sits on my work desk.
I first met Tess Woods late last year when the Bassendean Memorial Library had decided to put on a series of talks called The Literary Lounge, and through the bookstore where I work (which works mostly with libraries), I was brought on board to do the book sales. Tess's first book, Love at First Flight was about to be published in physical form for the first time, so it must have been about July or August last year, I think. I'd been seeing Love at First Flight absolutely everywhere. It was all over my Facebook and Twitter, and many of my author friends were talking about how amazing this Tess Woods was. We decided to ask her to present at the very first Literary Lounge, and she agreed.
Now, we're really lucky in Western Australia, because not only do we have a lot of amazing, talented writers living here, they're also really lovely people and frequently give up their time to put on events in bookstores and libraries. I've met a lot of authors in this fashion and some of them have gone on to become friends. But it's always exciting to have the opportunity to work with someone new, and introduce them to the audience for the first time. And we really struck gold with Tess, because she was so warm, and open, and funny, and the audience loved her. Interviewing her was a dream.
So fast forward about twelve months to that parcel arriving at my work. I was excited. I was already excited about Tess's new book, but to be sent one by the author with a note of thanks for the support I had provided was touching. (The fact that Tess's acknowledgements in the back of her new book go for several pages tell you a lot about the big heart this lady has.) I took the book home and I put it on my bedside table, waiting for the perfect, uninterrupted stretch of time to read it.
Last weekend, the time came and I delved in. Beautiful Messy Love is a contemporary story of two couples-- Nick and Anna, and Lily and Toby, four young people who live in Perth in the present day. (Not to spoil anything here, and sorry Tess if it was a secret, but Nick and Lily are actually the kids from Love at First Flight, all grown up.) Nick, a professional footballer in a fictional AFL team, is recovering from stress fractures in his feet, when he meets Anna, an Egyptian refugee whose mother was once a powerful political figure. Their romance is tested when Nick's fame and Anna's 'otherness' attract media attention. Meanwhile, Lily is struggling to become a doctor. Her serious boyfriend, Ben, has just left her, when she meets Toby in the hospital cafe and they have 'a moment'. Yet things are never simple, and Lily later learns that Toby has a wife who is dying of cancer in the very ward where Lily is doing her oncology rotation.
This book is a tribute to how messy falling in love can be, and how beautiful that makes life. It is a book with complex, nuanced characters and a powerful message. I wanted to live in the world of this book, and couldn't help but jump back into it at every chance I got. In particular, Nick and Anna's story moved me. Tess has obviously done a lot of research into writing about refugees and asylum seekers, and she writes about people escaping persecution and seeking a new life in Australia with generosity of spirit and a great degree of intelligence. Tess also writes family particularly well, and the scene in Karrakatta cemetery when Lily takes Toby to see her father's grave had me tearing up and thinking about how much I love my own Dad. (Soppy, I know). But that's the power of a great book. It anchors you to the real world, and makes you think and feel things.
So Tess, if you're reading this-- you have outdone yourself. And to everyone else? Beautiful Messy Love is available now at all good bookshops (and if you're in Perth, I think Tess has signed pretty much every available copy), and you should go and pick one up.
This is not a review-- I can't claim to be unbiased enough to write a review. iI's a spotlight on a lovely author and her wonderful book, and I can't recommend you read it highly enough.