Book review: ‘I Remember You’ by Harriet Evans

Best friends Tess Tennant and Adam Smith grew up in the tiny English town of Langford, made famous for its connection to author Jane Austen — and for its gorgeous vistas, including the historic water meadows. The meadows have been controlled for years by Leonora Mortmain, the daunting and severe old woman who has taken up permanent residence as an antagonistic old crone in the lives of Langford’s residents.

After many years apart, Tess returns to town from London and finds Adam — handsome, gawky, intelligent — living the same old life has has since the death of his mother, the larger-than-life Phillippa. Tess’s heart breaks at the thought of finding her oldest, dearest friend at a stand-still, but what can she do?

Other than begin teaching a course on classics at a local college. She eventually leads her pupils to Rome on an end-of-term field trip, and it’s there that she meets Peter — a charismatic, gorgeous American who sees something in Tess that she doesn’t yet notice in herself. Torn between her long-ago feelings for Adam and attentive, exciting Peter, Tess flounders. But Adam isn’t himself these days, and when a final secret comes to light, changing the very nature of everything in town — and Adam himself — can Tess embrace a new life? Or is she destined to flounder in the old one — alone?

Harriet Evans’ I Remember You was wildly entertaining, colorful, poignant, heartbreaking — basically everything I look for in a good novel. What I wanted David Nicholls’ One Day to be — a tale of best friends over the years, reuniting and loving and losing — was all found here, and what a thoroughly enjoyable book it was.

Tess was a character with whom I could identify immediately: proud but a bit confused about where she’s headed in life; adventurous, but still with a yearning to find “home.” Adam has been her steadfast friend since they were children, growing up in town together, and everyone assumed they’d eventually find love in each other — but not so. Through a succession of heartbreaks, heartaches and confusion, Adam and Tess lose touch. And when they eventually reunite, nothing is the same.

It’s hard for me to say exactly what I loved about this story. It was emotional, yes, and that’s the biggest boon for me: I felt emotionally invested with these people from the start. Their hurts were my hurts; their successes were my successes. Sweet, lovable Adam was hard not to fall for, too, even when he was off gallivanting through Langford, and Evans managed to perfectly capture the bittersweet feelings of first love. Since a terrible breakup, I’ve seen my first love once more — and reading I Remember You brought on a flood of feeling. (And relief, in my case. Let bygones be bygones.)

The English town in which Adam, Tess, Leonora and many others live really comes to life here, too. Throughout the novel, a huge tension exists between the “old and the new” — the longtime residents who want nothing to change, even as a flood of tourists arrive to visit the Jane Austen Centre, and the new regime: younger people, some transplants from London, who are seeking modern amenities in a quieter setting. I loved the resolution to many of the problems that exist in the narrative, especially regarding the water meadows.

When the setting switches to Rome, though, was equally enjoyable. We all know I’m in love with the British and find them an endlessly interesting lot, so reading about the group of Tess’s students and fellow citizens in Italy was great fun. Even peripheral characters came to life through Evans’ prose, giving us a glimpse of homemakers, playwrights and bartenders alike. Everyone was so colorful.

Not a novel I’ll forget anytime soon — and one that has me itching even more than usual to tromp around an English village. And if Tess and Adam were there to greet me, more the better.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 1439182000 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher