The Way Back To Us by Kay Langdale

Final cover

I’m thrilled to be part of the launch celebrations for The Way Back To Us by Kay Langdale, but I have a confession. Initially I said I wouldn’t have time for review and had no intention of reading the book with my TBR pile standing at over 900. I then had a conversation with Katie Marsh who endorses The Way Back To Us with this statement: ‘This poignant page-turner felt vividly real, making me cry and – ultimately – filling me with hope.’ Katie told me I HAD to read it. She was right!

In addition to my review today I’m thrilled to have a guest post from Kay Langdale all about the origins of The Way Back To Us.

Published by Hodder and Stoughton on 10th August 2017, The Way Back To Us is available for purchase here.

The Way Back To Us

Final cover

Since their youngest son, Teddy, was diagnosed with a life-defining illness, Anna has been fighting: against the friends who don’t know how to help; against the team assigned to Teddy’s care who constantly watch over Anna’s parenting; and against the impulse to put Teddy above all else – including his older brother, the watchful, sensitive Isaac.

And now Anna can’t seem to stop fighting against her husband, the one person who should be able to understand, but who somehow manages to carry on when Anna feels like she is suffocating under the weight of all the things that Teddy will never be able to do.

As Anna helplessly pushes Tom away, he can’t help but feel the absence of the simple familiarity that should come so easily, and must face the question: is it worse to stay in an unhappy marriage, or leave?

The Origins of The Way Back To Us

A Guest Post by Kay Langdale

How best to explain where the idea for The Way Back to Us came from?

I think novels originate from multiple, parallel, thought processes which then segue into a  narrative thread. It’s a bit like constructing a fishtail plait – the weft and weave of character, theme, and incident into something which has unified substance.

The Way Back to Us has its roots in three thoughts.

All of my novels obsess about the ties that bind us, and about the ongoing transactions which characterise long term relationships. I wanted to look at how ordinary circumstances can polarise a relationship – in this case where Tom works full time and where Anna is the primary carer. Teddy’s specific needs mean this is a more intense version of what happens in many relationships (irrespective of which person takes on which role) and I wanted to explore what happens to Anna and Tom as a way of thinking about any and every marriage, dialled up.

I’m also interested in the scrutiny which is part and parcel of parenthood, particularly motherhood. From the very first ante-natal class, women are subjected to an avalanche of advice which gains momentum during a child’s early years. From midwives, to health visitors, to teachers, to work colleagues, women are besieged by external opinion. Teddy’s SMA dials this up again, and compounds the responsibility Anna feels as her child’s primary carer. I wanted to look at motherhood as a state of siege, where the feeling that a mother can have of being a filter between her infant and the world is intensified by Teddy’s vulnerability. Sadly, this element has chimed with current events in the press, where a mother’s fight for her child resulted in a total estrangement from his health care providers.

I also wanted the novel to ask the reader to consider how we think about divorce, and how having a child with a life limiting illness impacts upon whether we think it’s a reasonable thing to do or not. It would be easy to say that Tom leaving Anna for Eliza would be particularly reprehensible because of Teddy’s condition, but I wanted the novel to ask whether it would be any less subject to being ‘judged’ in relation to Isaac too. I wanted to ask the question in a way that did not provoke judgement of any of the characters, but rather, a way of thinking about emotional damage rather than physical disability. I found myself at the end of the novel thinking, with Anna, that Teddy is actually stronger than Isaac. I’ve been very touched by how many of the early reviewers want to scoop Isaac up!

Writing a piece like this makes those three thoughts, and the subsequent writing of the novel, sound clear and logical and straightforward. My advice to any budding writer is that it never is! It’s easier to see a path once you’ve walked along it. I think you have to listen to your own writerly voice – that’s the part that I think comes unbidden – and write about what interests you, and let your characters step away from you and challenge you. I’m also a fan of Picasso’s quote that ‘inspiration exists but it has to find you working’. What’s great about writing is that some of your best ideas can come when you are driving back from the supermarket or loading the washing machine. The joy is in letting your creativity take flight.

My Review of The Way Back To Us

With Teddy having a life affecting genetic illness, the impact isn’t just on him, but on the whole family.

Oh dear. Do not read this book unless you are willing to be emotionally broken. I adore emotional reads and loved every word of The Way Back To Us.

I’m not usually a fan of multiple voiced narratives, but in this case, Anna, Tom, Isaac and Teddy held me spellbound for every syllable. Their personalities are vivid, and so delicately drawn that it is impossible not to understand every element of how they think and feel. I didn’t like Anna at all for 95% of the novel because of her self-destructive nature, but she had every ounce of my compassion and, ultimately, my complete understanding so that I changed my mind about her totally. Of all four, however, it was Isaac for whom my heart broke. There is a moment when I could hardly bear his sadness and guilt.

Kay Langdale illustrates with devastating honesty what daily life can be like when a child is ill. I now have a sympathetic understanding of the emotions: the fear, the rage. the guilt, the loneliness, of caring for a child with a life affecting genetic disease. However, The Way Back To Us is more than just a story about a family with a sick child. It is also an exquisite and heartbreaking exploration of the disintegration of a marriage, of parent and child relationships, friendships and family. I felt as if those who are in a spiral of distance from their loved ones would be able to repair their relationships if only they read this book.

The Way Back To Us is a wonderful, story, beautifully and poetically written. The balance of prose to direct speech, for example, mirrors the inability of the characters to communicate with one another effectively. Every emotion and action portrayed is totally believable and real. The Way Back To Us has made me grateful for everything I have and determined never to lose sight of why I love my own wonderful husband.

About Kay Langdale

Kay Langdale © John Cairns

Photo courtesy of John Cairns

Born in Coventry, Kay Langdale has written eight novels including The Way Back To Us. Kay says ‘I write about marriage, the ties that bind us, what a child needs, and what being a parent means. Thematically, my books explore social issues like surrogacy, adoption, and the complexities of modern family life. I’m a fan of the seemingly quiet story, and I like writing about people’s frequently unexpressed emotional hinterlands.’

With a doctorate from Oxford University, Kay is married with four children and enjoys, ballet, yoga, swimming and walking. She also loves cooking and reading.

You can follow Kay on Twitter @kaylangdale and visit her website.

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