Men I’ve Loved Before is the first of Adele Parks’ novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and I have to admit it was compelling. It begins with the introduction of the female protagonist, Natalie, meticulously organising a birthday meal for her beloved husband, Neil. Having been married for seven years, we soon discover that this couple have formulated a routine around work, social engagements, down-time and even sex, which suits them both… or so they believe.
Following an innocuous comment from his charismatic, yet commitment phobe, friend Karl, Neil changes his mind about a fundamental premise on which their marriage is based: their decision not to have children. However, Natalie is resolute in her convictions, and so the scene is set for an unstoppable force to meet an immoveable object. As neither party are willing to budge, their lives begin a downward spiral into chaos and confusion, threatening everything they previously held dear and causing them to doubt their love for each other.
Ms Parks cleverly highlights how misunderstandings can arise simply by failing to be honest with yourself, as well as the one person you love and trust the most. She also demonstrates how a refusal to communicate can lead you down a path you might previously never have considered, ultimately resulting in self-destruction and misery.
I really enjoyed this read. The narrative is witty and the characters believable, if not always likeable, but I’m sure most of us will recognise and identify with the many personality traits revealed throughout the book, and their compulsion to reach out for something which they believe will enhance their lives, be that time, babies, commitment, or sex.
The author’s use of humour, often by using a different character’s perspective, helped to lighten the many intense issues tackled within the novel’s pages, but without detracting from the serious undertones of these very real relationship problems. I found her account of three small children avoiding any attempts at regimentation by a seasoned anally retentive organiser, to be hilarious. The chaos and frustration generated in their wake will resonate with any new parent or novice child-minder, and give rise to a shudder in the more experienced amongst us.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find this book in Sainsbury’s at the bargain price of £1, and have to say it was a fantastic return for my money. I’m now looking forward to starting out on another of Adele Parks’ stories… just need to schedule a completely free day to finish it in one sitting as I know once I start, it will be a wrench to put it down again.