‘The story of several families who live on the same suburban street, all secretly struggling with the anxieties of the modern world whilst trying to maintain the illusion that everything is fine.’
– Everyone Is Still Alive
[ About the Book ]
It is summer on Magnolia Road when Juliet moves into her late mother’s house with her husband Liam and their young son, Charlie. Preoccupied by guilt, grief and the juggle of working motherhood, she can’t imagine finding time to get to know the neighbouring families, let alone fitting in with them. But for Liam, a writer, the morning coffees and after-school gatherings soon reveal the secret struggles, fears and rivalries playing out behind closed doors – all of which are going straight into his new novel . . .
Juliet tries to bury her unease and leave Liam to forge these new friendships. But when the rupture of a marriage sends ripples through the group, painful home truths are brought to light. And then, one sun-drenched afternoon at a party, a single moment changes everything.
The fiction debut from Sunday Times bestselling author Cathy Rentzenbrink, Everyone Is Still Alive is funny and moving, intimate and wise; a novel that explores the deeper realities of marriage and parenthood and the way life thwarts our expectations at every turn.
[ My Review ]
Everyone Is Still Alive by Cathy Rentzenbrink published today July 8th with Phoenix Books (Orion imprint) and is described as ‘a novel about guilt, grief, working motherhood, the mental load, envy, fear and status, but it’s also about love, friendship, community and how we figure out what really matters.’
An observational novel about family and relationships, Everyone Is Still Alive introduces us to Juliet, her husband Liam and their young son Charlie. Juliet’s mother has very recently passed away and, with her house now sitting vacant, it made practical sense for Juliet and her family to move in there. Situated in a rather salubrious neighbourhood, they make the decision that the move will be on a temporary basis, just to see how things work out, but they never anticipated what was to come.
The neighbours of Magnolia Road are very welcoming and it’s not long before they become part of this very friendly and all encompassing community, but Juliet takes time adjusting. Liam, a frustrated writer, stays at home to look after Charlie and quickly becomes embedded in the school gate gossip, going out for morning coffees with the other parents and easily making friends. Juliet is a very busy working mother who loves her job but is finding it very challenging to get the balance right between home and work. Small things are beginning to irritate and a tiny fracture appears in their relationship.
Helen and Dan become part of their circle and are a couple very much living on the edge of their nerves, neither of them really happy with the course their life has taken. Lucy and Baz run into their own difficulties with Lucy turning to Liam for a shoulder to lean on through the rough times. And there is Sarah, married to Stephen, who creates the illusion that her life is perfect, throwing out advice that others soak up. ‘Sarah said….’ is familiar to all in these women’s lives. If Sarah said it, then it simply must be right.
A laid back character, Liam has an amiable personality that encourages confidence and offers him the much needed inspiration for his next book, one he intends to loosely base on Magnolia Road. At the beginning Liam gets serious mileage out of all the behaviour, the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses lifestyle, describing it to Juliet as ‘Planet Privilege’.
“It’s like they’re from another planet. Stephen and Bas both own their own companies. Sarah has a cleaner. Lucy has a French au pair.”
But, as time passes, Liam starts to really enjoy the neighbourhood closeness and the constant chatter. Juliet, meanwhile, senses a distance developing between Liam and herself and she begins to question their marriage. It takes a catastrophic event to change the course of everyone’s lives, placing perspective on what is truly important to be happy.
Everyone Is Still Alive is a gentle book that flows along at the perfect speed immersing the reader in the day-to-day struggles of the residents of Magnolia Road. The value we place on people’s position and possessions is very evident, highlighting society’s never-ending capacity to be more, be loved more, laugh more and always wanting more. Are we ever happy with our lot? Why are we jealous of the bigger house or car that our neighbour’s have? Why do our children’s birthday parties have to be so flamboyant? Why the constant pressure, the guilt, the jealousy, the fear? Why are mothers forever feeling that they are simply just not good enough?
Cathy Rentzenbrink examines all these societal issues through the lens of a small community by creating an eclectic selection of characters, all flawed in some way but presenting themselves to the world as they see and feel is necessary. Everyone Is Still Alive is a wonderfully observed and meticulously formed novel. Most certainly this is a book that will resonate with many, as we evaluate our own lives, losses and regrets. It is a story about the everyday, the mundane but yet Cathy Rentzenbrink captures so cleverly the zeitgeist of Magnolia Road, bringing all the personalities into our hearts and minds. The strength of this story is in its simplicity. There is no complex plot, no fast-paced adrenaline-pumping drama (well maybe one!), but what it does have in bucket loads is heart. Everyone Is Still Alive is an elegant read, a deftly crafted tale that provides much thought and contemplation. A refined novel.
[ Bio ]
Cathy Rentzenbrink grew up in Yorkshire, spent many years in London, and now lives in Cornwall. She is the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Last Act of Love, which was shortlisted for the Wellcome Prize, and the acclaimed memoirs A Manual for Heartache and Dear Reader.
Everyone Is Still Alive is her first novel.
Twitter ~ @CatRentzenbrink