If you’ve never read one of Paige Toon’s novels, now’s the time to start, because her latest book, Five Years From Now, is her best yet. This beautiful will they/won’t they page-turner will both fill you with warmth, and pull on your heartstrings. The story, about finding happiness in spite of life’s complications, is set over more than three decades, and between two continents.
Nell and Vian are five when their parents fall in love and they first meet. After a slightly rocky start, soon, they are inseparable. That is, until they are separated by tragedy, five years later, and Vian is sent to live with his father in Australia. Another five years on, Nell and Vian, now known as Van, are reunited as teenagers, and develop feelings for each other of a different kind. Over the next two decades, life brings them back together every five years, each time, strengthening their bond. However, with lives on opposite sides of the world, and years between each reconnection, will the time ever be right for Nell and Van to be together?
This is a love story filled with obstacles, yet it is skilfully told and utterly believable. Nell’s father says to her, “five years from now, you’ll understand why this happened,” and Toon uses this as a framework for exploring Nell and Van’s relationship. As the plot move forwards in five-year increments, the characters reflect backwards on life’s ups and downs, a structure that marries the notion of destiny with that of reality. The decades long timeframe enables the reader to ‘watch’ the pair grow up, from children to adults, and the developing relationship between Nell and Van is honest and compelling. I found myself completely invested in both of them.
Nell’s relationships with her parents also catch the reader’s attention - and emotions. The close relationship Nell has with her father, is tenderly written, and authentically captures the shifting dynamics over the years, from childhood to adolescence and then into adulthood. Her more difficult relationship with her mother was also perfectly conveyed, and added to the compassion and understanding I felt for Nell, and her tie to Cornwall.
Toon draws on her own life experiences, growing up between England and Australia, to create a striking contrast between the British Nell and Australian Van. Nell’s idyllic, small-town life in coastal Cornwall is wildly different to Van’s adventurous experiences in vast Australia, mirroring their different journeys and personalities. There is a sense of stability to Nell’s Cornwall life, filled with characters that either never leave or keep returning, and her childhood home that barely changes. In comparison, Van’s life in Australia is exciting and ever changing. The author portrays the distinctive atmospheres of each place so vividly, beautifully rugged in such different ways, that you’ll feel as though you’ve visited.
Tender, wise, and heartfelt, Five Years From Now will make your heart ache and, at the same time, uplift you. It’s a book about destiny, circumstance, and hindsight, as well as love and acceptance. It’ll have you looking back on events in your own life, and wondering what will be different five years from now. You won’t be able to put this book down – I couldn’t – making it the perfect book to curl up with on a cosy winter’s day.
Reviewer: Emma Codd
Penguin Random House, RRP $37.99