Lucy Dillon’s uplifting and satisfying new comfort read, about family and love, offers a satisfying literary escape that will tug at your heartstrings. Chock-full of thought-provoking themes that include parenting, marriage, honesty and choices, All I Ever Wanted tackles both emotional issues and family dynamics in an easy, well-paced story, complete with a loveable pair of pugs.
Caitlin and Patrick are separating and, with Patrick working in Newcastle, Caitlin is doing her best to keep everything together for their children, Joel and Nancy, at home in Bristol. When they need to find a neutral place for Patrick and the children’s fortnightly visits, his sister, Eva, seems the only solution.
Eva is grieving the loss of her movie-star husband and love of her life, Mick. Having her brother’s family thrust upon her at this difficult time is the last thing she needs. But, spending time with her niece and nephew gives Eva – much to her surprise – immense joy. Reconnecting with family, while also reading Mick’s old diaries, Eva starts uncovering some truths about her marriage, as well as her own suppressed feelings about motherhood.
Meanwhile, Caitlin is enjoying her newfound sense of freedom, no longer under the controlling watch of Patrick. That is, until four-year old Nancy, her chattering usually constant, stops talking. Can Caitlin help her daughter to find her precious voice again? With the help of Nancy’s caring and concerned brother Joel, and Bumble and Bee, two cuddly pugs, she just might.
The strength of this book is in its characters. They are beautifully captured on the page, each of them sincere and well meaning, and I felt empathy for them all. Even Patrick, who I didn’t like much to begin with, I grew to understand and appreciate. By the end of the book it was as though I had seen each of its players from all sides, I’d seen their good and their bad, and I was rooting for them all to find happiness because, in spite of their faults, they deserved it. Skilfully, Dillon takes us from one character’s story to the next, moving our emotions along with them.
As Dillon artfully explores the emotional journey of the two women in All I Ever Wanted, Caitlin and Eva, she successfully strikes a chord. I felt a connection to both of these women as they try to figure out who they are in this next stage of their lives, without the men that they thought would always be there. What do they really want? Need? And what does family mean to them? Eva’s yearning for the children she never had, in particular, touched my heart and, as a mid-thirties woman, as yet undecided about children, she provoked a lot of thought.
And then there’s Nancy and Joel, the little people. It is impossible to read this book and not feel completely protective of them. I felt a maternal instinct arise that wanted to save Nancy from her quiet trauma; I wanted to pull her from the pages of the book and hug her, tight. Perhaps, though, I felt this instinct even more for Joel: the protective older brother, selflessly trying to help Nancy, part child, part little grown-up, all while trying to make sense of things himself. He is an adorably quirky child who, along with the pugs, brought lightness and humour to the book in all the right moments.
This moving and thought-provoking novel will fill you with sadness, and with joy. It will inspire you to blow wishes into bubbles and to treasure the people in your life. All I Ever Wanted is the perfect read for a sunny weekend, stretched out under a shady tree!