Book Review: This Changes Everything by Helen McGinn

Should first love be left in the past, or is first love, forever love…
Sisters Annie and Jess are used to their mother Julia being spontaneous. But when Julia announces she’s flying off to Rome to meet her first love Patrick, whom she hasn’t seen for fifty years, it’s an adventure too far. So, her daughters decide the only way to keep Julia safe, is to go too – without actually telling their mother she has chaperones!
Julia and Patrick’s love story was everything – epic, once-in-a-lifetime, with a tragic ending and life-long consequences.  First love is hard to forget, but sometimes, just sometimes, life delivers a chance to rewrite your story.
As the eternal city of Rome works its magic, old secrets, old friends and old loves become new possibilities and new dreams. And when the four travellers return home, nothing will ever be the same again.
Join Helen McGinn for a timelessjoyousunforgettable journey through love, family, and long-forgotten dreams.  A novel to hold to your heart and treasure, perfect for fans of Elizabeth Noble, Cathy Kelly and JoJo Moyes.”

This is such a lovely book – a fantastic escapist read, which was very much perfect for the current global pandemic situation. With beautiful settings of Rome (which I’ve still never been to and this whetted my appetite even more) and Cornwall (where we were lucky enough to escape to for 3 days between Christmas and New Year 2020) – it was nice to be somewhere beautiful and different and the writing really evoked the different settings. I didn’t realise until after I’d finished the book, that Helen McGinn is also The Knackered Mother wine expert – I now feel bad I didn’t drink wine throughout reading the book – but I can confirm I have a glass in hand whilst writing this blog! (The Doctor’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, lower alcohol for ‘damp’ January, £8.99 from Waitrose – and Tesco’s sometimes stock it too). I recognise – I am a complete knob…….

Back to the book! The book starts with Annie (harassed Mum, wife, furniture restorer) and her husband forgetting their 10th wedding anniversary. Then there’s her sister Jess (career girl, singleton, having an affair with a married man). And their Mum Julia – who as my Dad would say ‘likes wedding cake’ – in that she’s been married 3 times! She tells the girls that she’s off to Rome to meet up with her first love, Patrick, who she has never mentioned to them ever before. They are suspicious – and Jess decides that the two sisters should go and stalk her (and escape their issues at home). Annie doesn’t take much persuading – and so off they all fly!

The book then follows both trips to Rome and what happens when their paths do cross (in a church that Claudia Winkleman talks about lots in her recent book Quite #randomfact). However, aside from that, what happens in Rome stays in Rome as far as this blog is concerned as people who write spoilers are RUBBISH! Needless to say ‘This Changes Everything’! It’s something big which has repercussions when they all get back to Blighty.

One thing that resonated with me particularly was when Annie had a rant about how her seemingly charmed family life (anniversary forgetting aside!) was ‘lucky’. It’s not ‘lucky’ it takes a lot of work. This is something I totally empathise with – and whilst there is always an element of luck in a happy home life / successful career / option to take great holidays – all of these things also require a lot of hard work too. (Looks like I could have joined Annie in that rant?!)

The second half of the book – after Rome – also has some big stuff to deal with – including a big family holiday to Cornwall – back where Julia and Patrick first got to know each other. Throughout the book there are flashbacks to the 1960s when Julia and Patrick were teenagers – but these are woven through beautifully and you don’t feel like you’re jumping around.

All of the characters were likeable (although I don’t think Julia’s parents were – but they are long dead in the present era section of the book). And I also liked the fact that the girls’ Dad was still on good terms with everyone despite being divorced from Julia many years before.

I have to say I kept waiting for the disaster – the death / illness / a new divorce – but I’m delighted that they didn’t come. The book was just a massive, big, warm hug – which I think we could all do with at the moment.

It’s out in February – and I’d definitely pre order it if I were you! And if you do before 8 February 2021 – there’s currently a competition on The Knackered Mother’s Wine Club page to win a 24 hour getaway for 2 to the Lime Wood hotel in the New Forest. I am in no way associated with this competition – but happened to notice it earlier today and it sounds fab so wanted to share the love!

A massive thank you to Net Galley and the publishers for this advanced review copy.