Oh, I do love a dual narrative. If executed well it can be an immensely satisfying device, setting up readers for the moment when the two storylines cross and become one. Maggie O’Farrell was my go-to for this kind of novel for some time: her earlier books are a masterclass in the technique. David Nicholls’ One Day is another fine example and Laura Barnett took it a step further with The Versions of Us, offering three routes for Eve and Jim. Katy Mahood’s Entanglement is in a similar vein, following two couples over thirty years and ending on a significant day for each of them.
As she and her husband wait for their train at Paddington Station, Stella locks eyes with a man and shares a flash of recognition although neither of them can quite work out why. Wind the clock back thirty years to 1977 and Stella is arriving at Paddington, eager to share the news of her pregnancy with John. Both are post-graduate students: he in quantum physics, she in literature. Given that it’s the ‘70s, Stella knows she’ll have to suspend her studies while John continues to make his name but she’s yet to grasp the grinding exhaustion and incipient resentment bringing up a toddler will provoke. Then John is struck down with a virus and the golden future they’d envisioned on their wedding day is no longer in prospect. Meanwhile, Charlie prepares for his sister’s wedding not far from where Stella and John were married, anxious about his alcoholic mother and the man his vulnerable sister is marrying. Their day will be devastated by a pub bombing. Beth returns from France, marrying Charlie against her well-heeled family’s wishes. These two will have a much-loved daughter, just like Stella and John, but Charlie’s work offers far too many opportunities for drink. Both couples face challenges that one will overcome and the other will not. Thirty years after Stella arrived in Paddington bursting with news, all four will be brought together by circumstance although they may not entirely recognize it.
Entanglement is about chance and the randomness of life, about love and the way we become caught up in our relationships with others. Stella, John, Beth and Charlie criss-cross each other’s paths over the thirty years Mahood’s debut spans leaving traces they may never entirely understand. By necessity, it’s a novel which entails suspending any disbelief in coincidences which abound throughout although none of them were implausible for me. Mahood smoothly shifts perspective from character to character but it’s Stella and Charlie that power this story forward from that opening shared moment at Paddington as we move inexorably towards the point where the two families become entangled. Engaging characters, empathetically developed, neatly brought together in an absorbing story which ends on a note of hope: I loved it, swallowing it in one greedy gulp. Already looking forward to Mahood’s next one.