Richard and Judy Review Miss You by Kate Eberlen
" Kate Eberlen’s Miss You has great fun with this timeless question, and reading it I wondered how much the movie Serendipity starring Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack inspired this book."
Are we the masters and mistresses of our own fortunes? Or does the cosmos ultimately control our fate, nudging us subtly towards pre-ordained destinies?
Kate Eberlen’s Miss You has great fun with this timeless question, and reading it I wondered how much the movie Serendipity starring Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack inspired this book. It certainly motivated a young American woman to live out a fantasy from the film. She travelled to a distant city where she spent a dollar bill in a five-and-dime store; a bill on which she had written her name. The cosmic theory was that the man she was destined to marry would one day present her with the note, and she would know her destiny had revealed itself. Sure enough, years later a new boyfriend bought her some flowers for cash and received a note with her name on in his change. Totally unaware it was her signature but amused by the ‘coincidence’, he handed it to her with the bouquet.
Reader, she married him.
Miss You presents us with Gus and Tess, a couple destined to not-quite-meet for a decade and a half. Their first glancing encounter is in Italy when both are 18 and on holiday, Gus with his parents, Tess with her best friend, Doll. Gus helps the girls take a photo together but he and Tess don’t exchange names, let alone addresses, and swiftly go their separate ways.
Well, not quite separate. As we shall see.
"It’s a bit like an episode of Strictly Come Dancing where fate conspires to ensure a matched pair never ever quite arrive at the rehearsal studios at the same time, keep missing appointments, and end up performing solo routines."
Miss You tracks Gus and Tess over the ensuing years, never quite meeting but, frequently, almost. They are the quintessential ships that pass in the night. (Or planes. We are treated to one scene where Tess and her sister are waiting outside an aircraft toilet while Gus is inside having frantic sex; Eberlen gives us plenty of randomly comic touches like that).
Of course, it is external forces that contrive to keep the couple apart (and yet tantalisingly close); soon after their first not-quite-meeting in Italy, Tess is subsumed with concern for her mother, who has been diagnosed with cancer, and must care for her much younger sister Hope. Meanwhile Gus is pre-occupied with guilt after the death of his ‘perfect’ older brother in a skiing accident – a brother he never really liked much. Such events draw the couple into separate, interior and closed-off worlds.
It’s a bit like an episode of Strictly Come Dancing where fate conspires to ensure a matched pair never ever quite arrive at the rehearsal studios at the same time, keep missing appointments, and end up performing solo routines. Eberlen’s novel tracks their elusive gavotte over 16 frustrating (for us) years before… well… let’s not give the end away, shall we?
Eberlen herself admits to meeting a man at a party and spending the next 14 years keeping him at a distance and holding him in a blend of indifference and contempt. Then a mutual friend hooked them up and in the space of an evening Kate realised this man was her soul-mate – ‘and, actually, rather good-looking too!’
Reader, she married him. So will art imitate life?
You’ll enjoy finding out. A great beach read for the summer.
Do you believe in destiny, or the chaos of chance and happenstance?
Everyone wants to believe in destiny a little bit, don’t they? The multiplicity of paths that our lives could take is simply overwhelming if you pause to consider it even for a second, and sometimes things do just feel uncannily as if they’re ‘meant to be’. It’s a very human way of trying to pin down something that we can’t really explain. Truly believing in destiny, though, would mean denying the importance of the choices we make as individuals, and I wouldn’t want to do that. Our lives are shaped by aspects that are predetermined, like our genes and our families, but I feel the way we view our circumstances is also so important.
In Miss You, Tess generally engages with life in a sunny and positive way, and is always open to the idea of new opportunities. Gus, on the other hand, becomes a more attractive person after he starts taking responsibility for his decisions.
For me, meeting someone who is right for you is so much down to luck and timing. Someone who attracted you at twenty may not be the right person if you meet them when you’re thirty, or, as I experienced myself, someone who gives a bad first impression can turn out to be a person who makes you very happy! I think it’s exciting to think that each day you might just meet, or you might just walk past, someone who could change the direction of your life completely.
You obviously adore Italy. Tell us why it calls to you so strongly
I’ve been on holiday to and lived in several other countries, but I always seem to end up returning to Italy. It’s a country of such abundant beauty and contrast, from snowy mountains to baking beaches; from the soft gold and terracotta colours of Rome to the elegant palazzi along Venice’s Grand Canal. I’m endlessly fascinated by Italian culture: the architecture and literature of Ancient Rome, the masterpieces of the Renaissance and today’s icons of contemporary fashion and design. And, of course, there’s also all the delicious food, wine and ice cream! One of the great joys of writing is being transported (in your imagination) from grey English days to the locations you are writing about: seeing beautiful sights through your characters’ eyes, remembering tastes and smells. I know I’m not the first writer to think that Italy, with all its sensuousness and history, is the perfect setting for characters to come of age, as Tess and Gus do in Miss You. For me, there is an almost transformative quality to the light, the warmth and the generosity of the welcome.
You’ve been hovering on the brink of writing for some time – books dominated your childhood, and you read Classics at Oxford before working in publishing and the arts. What made you finally take the plunge?
Miss You is the first novel I’ve written as Kate Eberlen, but I have written ever since I could hold a pencil, including several novels published a while ago under another name. However, I hadn’t written anything for some years because I had really lost my confidence, and I thought I was finished with being an author. Instead, returning to the workplace after being a fulltime mother, I trained to teach English as a Foreign Language, hoping to have the means, eventually, to live half the year in Italy. Teaching gave me everything I wanted: a new skill, the opportunity to meet all sorts of different people and a gossipy staff-room! I felt happier and more fulfilled than I had for some time. Then one day, completely out of the blue, I had the idea for Miss You, and, though I resisted it for some time, it wouldn’t let me go.
Was the experience of the writing process what you were expecting, or did it come as a complete surprise?
Although I had the characters in my mind before I started writing, it took me a long time to puzzle out how to tell their story. And when I’d decided that two first-person narratives was the way, that presented another challenge. Tess’s voice was in my head right from the start – the first page of the novel is almost exactly the first page I wrote – but I was less sure about writing from a male perspective. I think this is partly because Gus is naturally a less direct person than Tess, so it took a great deal of thought, and a big leap of faith, to write in Gus’s voice.
Overall, though, I think the thing that surprised me the most was that writing Miss You felt very different to writing my earlier novels. In fact, the whole process has been different – and the news that Miss You was going to be translated into twentyseven languages around the world came as the biggest and most incredible surprise of all!
- Tess and Gus do finally end up together – do you believe that some things are just meant to be, or is everything just chance?
- Both Tess and Gus experience bereavement in this novel. Discuss how the different characters deal with this situation.
- Would you describe this story as having a happy ending?
- Discuss how Kate Eberlen structured this novel.
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