by Jennifer L. Cahill
One? is the first book in a contemporary fiction trilogy, looking at finding ‘the one’ in the modern world and how relationship models are shifting in the most innovative period in living history. The story starts in 2005, and spans ten years following the characters from the challenges of their twenties into their thirties.
It’s London in the mid-noughties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi.
Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual. Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love. At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming. Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future. One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4.
Penelope, Charlie and Zara are twenty-somethings house sharing in trendy Clapham.
Glamorous Penelope is a little bit posh, sporting a blonde bob and working in investment banking in the city. She’s fantastic at her job and her superiors are hinting at her becoming a partner. Her best friend George (Georgina) is brutal and honest, a friend we all have somewhere in our circle, and they often get together for after work drinks and gossip and of course getting the lowdown after a big date.
Ladies man Charlie is a wannabe rock star, “almost famous” but mostly spending his time chasing after woman in bars. Charlie and Penelope met at university and they have a nice friendship bantering with each other.
The youngest of the three, Zara, is new to London having moved from Bangor for a job on St Martin’s Lane. Coming from a place “where nothing ever changes”, the hustle and bustle of London comes quite a shock to her. She’s afraid of the tube and would be lost without her A-Z. This is the mid-noughties and Citymapper isn’t a thing yet so it takes her a while to find the confidence to travel like a real Londoner.
Penelope is keen to help Zara, passing on valuable advice like always carry an umbrella for the unpredictable weather, make sure to pack water for the overwhelming heat on the tube and don’t make eye contact with weirdos while you’re there. I loved how realistic all of this was as I’ve certainly been in all of these situations before, right down to needing deodorant after having to run to work following delays on the train.
“Penelope was trying to be helpful, in reality she was scaring the bejesus out of Zara”
Cahill writes London so well and I really enjoyed how English it all seemed, from the use of the word ‘loo’ to the frequent ‘bloody’ and even a nod towards Monty Python mentioning The Spanish Inquisition. It’s very ‘London’ to refer to places by their postcodes so I’m not sure this will be to everyone’s tastes and understanding, but I really liked this touch too. I must say, I’m English and I commute into London every single day, so maybe I’m biased but relatable quotes like this really put a real smile on my face throughout the book:
“It was a grim, grey day in London, it had been lashing rain all day, and the streets were really badly flooded. These days are not too uncommon in London…”
The blurb and cover image of this book made me think this was going to mostly be a romance story but I’d say this was less romance more a story of settling in, finding your feet and figuring out your place in the world.
The romance that we do get starts to emerge about 100 pages in when Penelope finds herself being invited out by two men in the same week.
“‘Bloody hell Pen, it’s obviously your night!’ George sounded astounded.
‘I know, they are like bloody buses aren’t they?’ Penelope agreed”
Richard Lord is a blast from Penelope’s past. They met in uni and these days he’s living in old castle somewhere in Scotland. He’s a bit of a stiff, the type of guy that thinks jeans are common – eek!
The other guy is a beautiful French lawyer for the music industry. Alyx (Ah-Leeks) gets offended when English people pronounce his name incorrectly, but he’s such a gentleman and the complete opposite to Richard. Pen falls for Alyx on day one, getting giddy with every text and call.
This book had similar vibes to Anna Hope’s Expectation that I read fairly recently, touching on themes of expectation vs reality in the modern world. All of the characters are strong and very likeable.
I was particularly fond of Zara and her inner voice. I’d have loved to read a whole book of Zara finding her feet as her thoughts and actions are very relatable for me. I reckon I’m somewhere between a Zara and a Penelope, sharing characteristics of each of them, like Zara always making a cuppa, and with a little bit of Pen’s stiff upper lip too. I even share Pen’s blotchy red nervous rash!
In terms of negatives, I didn’t really see the point of Gerry, the new housemate, who had no real input to the story. I also got a little bit lost at times when the perspective seemed to rapidly change, but I think this was more of a spacing issue with the paragraphs than anything else and certainly not something to spoil the book for me.
As a debut novel I am more than impressed with this story and I look forward to reading the next two books in this trilogy!
Overall rating: “One?” is a fantastically English piece of contemporary fiction set in the 2000s. Penelope, Charlie and Zara are great characters and these ladies are some of the most relatable I’ve read in a while. I really enjoyed this – 5 stars!
Jennifer L. Cahill kindly sent me a copy of her book in exchange for my honest review. I loved this book and if it seems like something you’ll enjoy too, it’s available on Kindle and paperback on Amazon UK and Amazon USA.