REVIEWED BY SARAH PROCTOR
Stan’s received a diagnosis, and it isn’t good. He asked Bonnie to wait outside, but it hasn’t delayed by much the awful moment he has to tell her…
Here begins an uplifting, unconventional Merseyside love story between a plumber turned builder and a feisty high-flying architect. They’ve been together fifty-odd years – but not, it seems now, for much longer.
So much for the present day. We are catapulted back to 1963, alongside a teenage Bonnie finding her feet at Liverpool University, where sexism and condescension hold sway.
Fortunately she has an ally in politics student Susie Ann, who irons her hair, lends her a short skirt and hauls her off to the Jacaranda Club where the Best Boys are playing.
Susie Ann is in a relationship with Sticks, the drummer – and before the night is out, Bonnie and Spike, the frontman, are an item too…
And so we meander forward and back in time, through a whole spectrum of emotions.
What could be an unbearably sad story is made easier by a warm cast of family and friends. While dismayed at the news – and in Bonnie’s case, determined to beat the cancer – their busy lives distract and involve Stan and the reader alike. One daughter, Rachael is helping to build their dream home, designed by Bonnie – a bittersweet project now for Stan.
The thought that chills him most is that of his beloved Bonnie all alone in the beautiful house they were meant to grow old in together.
Stan comes up with a plan…
It’s during a heart-to-heart with his teenage granddaughter Greya that Stan forms his plan. Greya signs him up to a dating site to find a companion who will support Bonnie when he no longer can – and maybe, in time, become more to her.
Stan is just a lovely chap, from gently reprimanding his ageing playboy pal Dave and chatting to his troll keyring, Terry, to confronting his mortality – oddly, some of the most moving moments are on his “dates”. There’s a mini-series of case studies in dealing with bereavement here, too.
Then there is the crazy, cathartic family celebration of Swedish Midsummer with Bonnie’s Aunt Nancy and her wife Astrid – both approaching ninety – who add joy, a maypole, skinny-dipping and a solemn secret to the mix.
The flashback scenes are vividly, lovingly rendered, including the smelly stickiness of The Cavern and surreal moments like the Best Boys’ rehearsal in a butcher’s fridge. All the while, the 1963 narrative is building towards “Bad Friday” and a momentous event involving the Best Boys.
But which of the band members is actually Stan? Between nicknames, middle names and plumbing red herrings, it’s impossible to know for sure… and the ambiguity builds, right up to the deeply satisfying pivotal scene.
The book ends at just the right place, I felt – without giving anything away, souls are bared, ghosts laid, electrical work completed… and the reader is left with the comforting feeling that true love really is stronger than death.