Mum-to-be Rachel did everything right, but it all went wrong. Her son, Luke, was stillborn and she finds herself on maternity leave without a baby, trying to make sense of her loss.
When a misguided well-wisher tells her that “everything happens for a reason”, she becomes obsessed with finding that reason, driven by grief and convinced that she is somehow to blame. She remembers that on the day she discovered her pregnancy, she’d stopped a man from jumping in front of a train, and she’s now certain that saving his life cost her the life of her son.
Desperate to find him, she enlists an unlikely ally in Lola, an Underground worker, and Lola’s seven-year-old daughter, Josephine, and eventually tracks him down, with completely unexpected results…
Both a heart-wrenchingly poignant portrait of grief and a gloriously uplifting and disarmingly funny story of a young woman’s determination, Everything Happens for a Reason is a bittersweet, life- affirming read and, quite simply, unforgettable.
I’m writing this review fresh from reading this stunning debut from Katie Allen. I usually leave a few days, even a week, allowing the story and my emotions about it to settle, but with Everything Happens For A Reason, the intense, quite visceral reaction, is the most important part of the review and needs to be captured while it is at its most raw.
Rachel’s son Luke was stillborn, the intensity of her grief, the pain of her loss, drives her to seek answers, as to why her beautiful baby died. Told in a series of emails sent to an account set up for her son, she tells of her journey in the days, weeks and months after his death, in which she is driven to seek answers that can in some way explain her terrible loss.
It may seem odd to some to frame the story in this way, but it works on an emotional level, far better I feel than a traditional linear narrative. I’m reminded of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, in which she tells of the story of Celie, who in the opening chapters writes letters to God, because she has no one else to express her pain to and those letters become a release, from the day to day abuse and exploitation she faces.
Here to, in Everything Happens For A Reason, Katie Allen uses a similar narrative tool to express both Rachel’s pain and how it isolates her from those that care for her. Locked away inside herself, these emails become her way of surviving the crushing grief that threatens to overwhelm her, an outlet for thoughts she can’t share with others. It makes the reader the only other witness to her deeply moving search for closure, the moments of both raw emotion and humour. I felt an intense connection to both her story and her loss, because I had this intimate access to her inner most thoughts! It made an emotional read also both beautiful and compelling. What affected me most, was the potential of these emails to be, not just an emotional outlet for Rachel, but as the novel progresses, a possible way for her to reclaim her sanity and her life.
Let me make it clear, I have never had children, never lost a child, so I can’t begin to understand how utterly the loss and the pain would affect me. But Katie Allen’s perfect story, the clarity of the voice she gives Rachel, the way she expresses her desperate need for answers, gave me an insight into the crushing grief that sends her off on a journey, so few of us can contemplate. In Rachel she has created a character that perfectly encapsulates how grief, individual and all consuming, still leaves us with the hope that she can find a way, not to come to terms with what happened, I’ve never been sure that is possible, but to learn how to move on and live, even as that bereavement shapes and changes her forever. I felt I was part of her journey and to provoke this connection between character, story and reader, is surely what reading is all about.
It is a book that is full of pain, but also one that is, as the blurb says, gloriously uplifting. I have never lost a child, but I have experienced grief. The frantic days and months after, that caught up in a form of madness, turned me on a path to find a new life, to grab hope from sudden and crippling loss, changed, but also hopeful. This is for me what Everything Happens For A Reason encapsulates! Within it’s pages the writer tells Rachels story and how grief is not just shaped by the pain of her loss, but each individuals search for the answers that can heal them and the connections with those we love, that can ultimately sustain us.
You can order Everything Happens For A Reason directly from the publisher.
You can of course order from your favorite independent bookshop.
About the author
Everything Happens for a Reason is Katie’s first novel. She used to be a journalist and columnist at the Guardian and Observer, and started her career as a Reuters correspondent in Berlin and London.
The events in Everything Happens for a Reason are fiction, but the premise is loosely autobiographical. Katie’s son, Finn, was stillborn in 2010, and her character’s experience of grief and being on maternity leave without a baby is based on her own. And yes, someone did say to her ‘Everything happens for a reason’.
Katie grew up in Warwickshire and now lives in South London with her husband, children, dog, cat and stick insects. When she’s not writing or walking children and dogs, Katie loves baking, playing the piano, reading news and wishing she had written other people’s brilliant novels.