Beautiful Messy Love…
When football star Nick Harding hobbles into the Black Salt Cafe the morning after the night before, he is served by Anna, a waitress with haunted-looking eyes and no interest in footballers famous or otherwise. Nick is instantly drawn to this exotic, intelligent girl. But a relationship between them risks shame for her conservative refugee family and backlash for Nick that could ruin his career.
Meanwhile, Nick’s sister, Lily, is struggling to finish her medical degree. When she meets Toby, it seems that for the first time she is following her heart, not the expectations of others. Yet what starts out as a passionate affair with a man who has just buried his wife slips quickly into dangerous dependency.
Through attraction, breakups, triumphs and tragedies, these two couples learn just how much their beautiful messy love might cost. A West Side Story for the modern day.
Tess Woods explicitly understands what it is to be human. She demonstrated this with her first novel, Love At First Flight, and now she’s done it again with her second, Beautiful Messy Love. I loved this novel so much I hardly know where to begin with articulating all of my thoughts – which are many!
A good starting point would probably be for me to state up-front that I liked Beautiful Messy Love a teensy bit more than Love At First Flight, which is a pretty big deal because Love At First Flight was one of my top picks for last year. I felt there were a greater range of characters for Tess to go deep with in Beautiful Messy Love and there were also a couple of timely and important social issues explored that were handled with sensitivity and great intelligence by Tess. It appears that Tess Woods is going to keep getting better and better with each new novel when she was already brilliant to start with. Aren’t we lucky!
One thing really struck me while reading Beautiful Messy Love, a notion I took to be the overall ‘message’ of the novel:
We do not love in isolation
I’ve never read a novel that has demonstrated this so well, particularly in the case of Nick and Anna, but also to a certain degree with Lily and Toby. This is one of the many reasons why I say things like, ‘Tess understands being human’. She really does. Her characters are just like real people, crafted with the skill that only comes from the hand of someone who has lived and loved and lost themselves. It’s a gift to be able to translate such precise emotion into words and to tell a story that not only keeps people reading all night but has them thinking about it for days after. And it’s not only her main characters that strike a chord. I absolutely adored Ahmo Fariz and Tante Rosa; these two were so funny together but they provided more to the story than comic relief. They were the linchpins for Anna, the two people she could rely on above all others and I loved their dedication and protection of their niece, even when her choices were making their lives difficult. One of my favourite scenes in Beautiful Messy Love was when Tante Rosa shares her story with Anna. Such a heartbreaking moment when we learn of Rosa’s own loss.
Beautiful Messy Love is a character driven story so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the main characters with a little more depth. Lily was simply divine. She possessed a beautiful soul and the point at which she realised this was a truly wonderful turning point for her. Instead of regarding her empathy as a reason to not be a doctor, she learnt to embrace it and focus on a new medical career that was of her own choosing, rather than simply following blindly in someone else’s footsteps. The relationship between Lily and Toby demonstrated how important it is to be your own person first if you have any hope of being able to successfully love another for more than a brief moment in time. I especially enjoyed Lily’s relationship with her brother, Nick. Their closeness and rapport was so endearing, really lovely, and of course, quite natural and authentic. For Nick, meeting and loving Anna enhanced his life in so many ways. I loved seeing him transform from a shallow empty soul into a meaningful person who was willing to use his celebrity status for more than just a free ride at life. I adored Anna, with her fierce love for her family and her unwavering hope for a better future. Anna, and her family’s story, is a timely example of how terrorism needs to be separated from being Muslim: the two are not mutually exclusive.
I learnt more about being Muslim from this novel than from any other source in recent times. It was refreshing to experience the life of another culture through the eyes of someone who knows what they’re talking about. As demonstrated through Nick’s and Anna’s experiences with the media, we live in a society that is saturated with fear mongering and negative hype. It’s sad to think that division is more popular than unity, but novels like Beautiful Messy Love give me hope that one day we can overcome this societal flaw. One day we might all unite and love each other for our differences just as much as we already do for our similarities. Surely, the only way we can overcome evil is to band together and stand united against it. If we can learn anything from history at all, then it has to be that religious persecution is not the way forward.
I’m going to leave this review with the same stunning words Tess left Beautiful Messy Love on:
“The love I had for the people who surrounded me and the way I loved those I had lost was messy – it was complicated, difficult and sometimes unbearably painful. But that didn’t make it any less beautiful.”
Beautiful Messy Love. Read it. Love it. Tell everyone about it. #BeautifulMessyLove
Thanks is extended to HarperCollins for providing me with a copy of Beautiful Messy Love for review.
Beautiful Messy Love is book 56 in my 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge.