I remember seeing Haleh Agar tweet about her debut novel Out of Touch peak pandemic*, it was definitely not the book launch she anticipated or dreamed of. I really felt for her and know I would not have handled it with the same dignity, I’d still be throwing a strop now.
I’ve tried to support debut novelists wherever possible this year and Haleh’s tweet stuck with me, so I bought Out of Touch immediately.
It is fabulous, a fascinating tale of love, loss, betrayal, forgiveness, heartbreak and hope. I found it utterly compelling and bought into the worlds of Michael and Ava completely.
From the back…
A man hit Ava with his car, a few miles from her bungalow. He brings her flowers in hospital and offers to do her laundry. He also brings her the letter she dropped that night on the road.
In New York, Ava’s brother Michael receives the same letter. He thinks about it as he steps out of the shower into his curtainless bedroom. A naked woman stares at him from the apartment across. They both laugh and cover up with their arms.
Brother and sister cannot avoid the letter: their estranged father is dying and wants to meet. Can they forgive their father, and face each other after all these years apart? Will new unexpected friends offer the advice and comfort they need?
I was intrigued by the family dynamic at the centre of this book and the brother/sister relationship.
Ava and Michael have lost touch and no longer speak, he’s in New York with his family, she stayed in Welton to be with and care for her alcoholic mother. Ava feels abandoned by Michael and, it’s fair to say, has come to resent him.
I have two brothers and can’t imagine any situation where we don’t speak. Yes, we’re very different. Yes, we do each other’s heads in. Yes, we argue and probably don’t see each other as much as we should, but we do have each other’s backs; at least I think we do, they might disagree.
I’ve missed them this year, the last time we were all together was David’s surprise 30thbefore lockdown, he was on crutches for some reason. Mathew was supposed to get married in September, which, clearly didn’t happen. We’ve seen each other a couple of times, every time I drive past David he sticks the vs up, I wouldn’t have him any other way.
It’s against this backdrop that I came to this book.
Ava and Michael both have issues to deal with where their parents and each other are concerned. They’ve tried to ignore it in different ways. Michael through running off to New York, Ava by not really living at all; she’s stayed in the same bungalow and in the same unfulfilling job. Both are deeply flawed and conflicted, but I never questioned their actions, I could see where they were coming from and understood how they acted. Both needed to address their feelings of abandonment before reconciling with their father and working out if they could forgive him.
I loved Ava, she felt real. She was brittle, untrusting and had put up barriers to those around her. Seeing those barriers slowly come down (and at times go back up) was a joy to read about as she started to find her own way and move on from the past.
I liked how each chapter was told through Ava and then Michael’s eyes. The guilt he felt over leaving his younger sister to pick up the pieces and how he’d left things with his mum.
It’s a story about a dysfunctional family trying to piece themselves back together. It’s sad in places, it’s written with humour, it ends with hope. It’s also incredibly realistic, it isn’t an easy, happy reunion, it isn’t case of everyone saying sorry and happiness following, it shows that healing and forgiveness takes time. It isn’t a linear journey, there’s ups and downs, twists and turns as Ava and Michael reunite.
It shows that the bond between brother and sister can be unbreakable and it made me grateful for my two little brothers (who are much taller than me) – I imagine they’ll cringe reading that and we’ll get back to taking the piss out of each other soon enough.
So Haleh, thank you for this book, it may not have been the way you envisioned it being released but it’s a triumph nevertheless and I look forward to seeing what you come up with next!
*Not sure if it is still accurate to refer to March/April as peak pandemic in light of the last 24 hours. However you’re affected, I hope you’re all doing well xxxx
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm