Book review: Two Lives by Sarah Bourne

Two Lives begins at the moment of impact – a car accident after which one woman, Emma, fails to stop but walks away unharmed while the other, Loretta, sustains grievous damage. The rest of the novel cuts between the points of view of these two main characters, tracing the unravelling of each of their lives after the accident, and gradually bringing them into one another’s orbit.

We discover that Emma is in a violent relationship with a man who believes he will soon be her husband. She’s cut off from her family and friends, hiding her injuries, and constantly, fearfully trying to second-guess what will set him off. At first I found it hard to sympathise with her character – because I just desperately wanted to get her head on straight and walk out of there – but Bourne works hard to present the dynamics of Emma’s situation and the thought-processes and emotional binds that result in a woman staying in an abusive relationship, well after she should have left.

Loretta I found, at first, easier to relate to. She’s an older woman, who has a background as a case worker working with pregnant teenage girls, a job she has now left but that has left its mark on her. She is in a strong and loving marriage, and she is portrayed from the outset with real warmth and intimacy. All of this makes the heartbreak that unfolds for her raw and challenging to read.

It’s hard for me to say too much about the plot without giving more away than I’d like to, because the slow reveal is done very well and is what gives the story its impact. The storytelling in Two Lives is not rushed, but spends time with each of the main characters independently, before their fates become increasingly intertwined.

I felt like I’d taken a real journey as I’d read it – and I ended up somewhere very different to the destination I was expecting.

Two Lives is a careful exploration of the pain of loss and how it can distort a person’s character. I found it an emotionally affecting book which has continued to resonate in my thoughts in the days since I finished it.

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