Anna and Theo (One Love, Two Stories) by Amanda Prowse

Review published on March 26, 2018.

I must admit I’m a demanding reader, impatient for the next book, especially when it comes to sequels or multi-book series. I know it’s difficult for authors to meet readers’ demands and with other projects and books pulling them every which way it’s understandable sequels don’t arrive overnight. After all, we want the sequel to live up to the predecessor, so these things can’t be rushed. But imagine if a novel and its sequel could be published within a mere month of each other, four little weeks. Given the time it takes to read a novel, that’s barely any time at all, and that is exactly what the wonderful Amanda Prowse has done, with two novels telling the two characters’ sides of a love story published in March and April respectively.

And having just read both I can attest to the fact that it not only works superbly but there’s no compromise on quality. These are two first-rate novels in their own right and together they make a first-rate duology that surely took an impressive amount of effort and dedication to achieve. I’m not sure on the logistics – whether Ms Prowse wrote these two in record time or whether she was working away at them for a while in the background until both were ready to publish simultaneously, but however it has been achieved it is testament to the vision, skill and dedication of both the author herself and her publisher. Whether it’s something that we will see more of, I’m not sure, but Prowse has certainly set the bar extraordinarily high.

It is so refreshing to read a book and then immediately be able to pick up its sequel rather than waiting around a year or more for the next instalment or holding off on reading the first novel until the next titles in the sequence are ready so that they can be read concurrently. Whilst it’s nice to be able to read two books in a series straight after one another, this isn’t just about entertainment, there is a practicality to being able to do so, because if you’re anything like me it’s not long before you forget exactly what happened in book one, especially if you’re reading a year’s worth of books in between until the arrival of book two. So it really does make a difference to move straight from book one to book two, holding not only the broad outline of the story of the first novel and its characters in your head but the smaller details that really help to connect two novels and bring their bond to life.

And if you do read Anna and Theo concurrently you really get to experience the beautiful connections and links between the two books so much more powerfully. There is a worry of course about overlap and repetition, but Prowse is a consummate storyteller and whilst she recognises that some scenes benefit from having both Anna and Theo’s side of the story, the two alternative perspectives mean that these scenes are always subtly different. But what is so great is that the two novels fit together like the two halves of a broken heart, filling in the gaps and making everything work. Thus scenes ‘missing’ from Anna’s narration are brilliantly taken up in Theo’s story and vice versa.

But as well as working perfectly together, they each stand up individually as superb reads. Both novels follow the lives of their eponymous characters, and both deal with some incredibly tough and challenging issues. I love the fact that Ms Prowse does not skirt away from the messiness of real life, not everything pans out well, in fact more often than not it doesn’t, but there is always a sense of overcoming the odds and moving towards something better. These books are testament to the power of hope and second chances. And they are also incredibly moving, as are all of Ms Prowse’s novels. As an author, she has the ability to make her readers feel in a very authentic and empathetic way. But again, though she really delves into the heartache of human experience, it never feels staged or melodramatic, these are genuine characters experiencing genuine emotions and as such her readers share in it too, and there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Reading Anna is a moving, beautiful experience and you’d be forgiven for wondering how on earth Theo is going to measure up. But there’s absolutely no need to do so because you’re in the hands of a super talented author, who, to my mind, is one of the most astute, affecting and authentic writers of contemporary fiction, and she proves that twice over here.

As well as Anna and Theo’s narratives offering two stories from different perspectives, we also get treated to two casts of characters. Anna’s story features her mum, her brother Joe, and various friends and workmates, but it was Sylvie, Shania and Jordan that really shone for me. And then in Theo’s story we get a completely new set of characters to experience, including his parents, his peers at his boarding school, but most notably his best friend Spud and mentor Mr Porter. In both novels, we get some of the most moving, harrowing and life-affirming relationships possible. It would be easy to imagine this is just a story about the relationship between Anna and Theo but the author gives us so much more by peopling her narratives with such a rich array of characters, such that we have everything from a tender mother-daughter relationship to a bullish father-son relationship to a moving mentor-mentee relationship.

In every way, these two novels make it feel not just like book two is a second helping, but that you are being given twice as much of everything. Book one is brilliant, book two is superb, but book one and book two together multiply brilliant by superb to get epic and that is realised in large part by the publishing decision to send these two novels out into the world together. It is a testament to the publishing house, a sign of the author’s talent and a treat for readers.

Jade Craddock

Anna by Amanda Prowse
Head of Zeus 9781788542067 pbk Mar 2018

Theo by Amanda Prowse
Head of Zeus 9781788542104 pbk Apr 2018

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