This book was bought for me as a present quite a few years ago. I don't know why it was there for so long because it looked like a good read, but I suppose personal challenges and my mood at the times of picking a new book just went in another direction, until now. I had never read anything by this author before.
We have 2 different sets of characters, whose stories run simultaneously, and come together later on in the novel. Jake is from Hong Kong, but with white parentage. His mother met his father while backpacking around the world. Unbeknown to him she is pregnant when they part company. Now in his 20s, Jake and his girlfriend of a few months are involved in a New Year crush in town, where one of their party is killed, he is injured and his girlfriend is dying in hospital. She asks of him the unthinkable before she dies, to marry her, but she lives and he is trapped, having to move to England to take care of her.
Meanwhile, in London, Stella runs across a man she thinks she knows on a bridge and collapses with fear. Knowing it is her past catching up with her, she packs in her life in London and flees to a remote hotel in Scotland without informing her sister. They have been closely bound all of their lives, through illness and an unfortunate incident at school. By coincidence, Jake's past also brings him to the same hotel.
This book is essentially a love story, 2 people running away from oppressive relationships and running into each other along the way. It includes sections that inform you of their wider families and how that has contributed to their situations. A lot of these sections are various explorations on claustrophobic family relationships, their effect and trying to escape them in order to be yourself. This was conveyed so successfully that there were parts where I wanted to scream.
The book also explores families settling in Britain away from their own countries. Stella's family are Italian, relocated to Scotland, driving the sisters together for survival at school from the bullies and generally feeling different. Jake is a non-Chinese native of Hong Kong, now living in Britain. These sections are skillfully done and obviously researched well.
On the whole I enjoyed reading about Stella and Jake, especially the parts in Scotland at the hotel, both of them denying their pasts to try to find where they are. The hotel provides a kind of buffer of anonymity, which can only ever be temporary.
I did find, however, that there were lots of mysteries that came up early in the book and were not referred to until the end, as in Stella's reaction to the man on the bridge. Or not resolved at all and never referred to again, such as Jake's search for his father, so that the focus of the beginning of the book was let go and replaced by the love story.
I also found Jake and particularly Stella so reserved and emotionally cocooned within themselves that I did not feel involved with them as much as I would have liked.
There are a lot of issues in the book to talk about, resettled families, the relationships between sisters, running from the past. There are some lovely descriptive sections and incidents related from both Stella's and Jake's point of view showing a skillful writer. I would possibly consider reading another by this author even though this one felt a little uninvolved and disjointed on the whole,but altogether it was a pleasant and untaxing read, a book that would be suitable for relaxing with on a sunny holiday.