Book Review – The Five Stages of Falling in Love

This is a book review for The Five Stages of Falling in Love by Rachel Higginson, available here:

4* – poignant and emotional

This book was recommended to me by another author and after reading the blurb I knew I’d enjoy it. I’m glad I listened to the advice – it’s a great book!

Elizabeth lost her husband to cancer and the book follows her life as she struggles to deal with all her kids and her loss at the same time as a handsome new neighbour, Ben, forces her to confront a lot of feelings on her journey towards something approaching normal.

First up, this book packs some seriously emotional suckerpunches. A couple of times I teared up and got a lump in my throat. There are scenes that will speak truth to the heart of any reader who has lost someone in their life. The book walks the path of grieving with such familiarity and realistic feeling that you really feel for the characters.

Lizzie is a mostly great character. She’s strong and vulnerable, beautiful and frazzled, trying to be everything at once and somehow not hitting the target on anything. She’s so torn and complex that you can’t help but become emotionally invested in her. There were sections of her journey that did irritate me because she was so wilfully ignorant of Ben’s feelings and whether that was intentional or not, I did find my attention wandering as I got bored with her prevarications.

Ben is a great character. He’s warm and funny, vulnerable but determined. There’s a lot to love about his quiet persistence and understanding. The way he fits into the family is great too and I think the author handled that really well. Deaths in the family do often hit the kids the hardest and it was written with sensitive realism.

You get invested in these character’s lives. You want the best for them and you feel ghost echoes of their pain. You desperately want a happy ending all round, even when you know there’s no such thing when you’re grieving a loss as big as the love of your life. It’s a journey that’s well worth the taking.

So why only four stars? What stopped this book from being perfect? Aside from the moments of irritation with Lizzie, I think the biggest flaw of this book for me was the structure. I totally understand why it was written the way it was written. There are five stages to grieving and writing the book along that path makes absolute sense. The problem is that an insistence on having a part of the story set in each phase meant that a lot of it was quite repetitive. Things Lizzie thought in the bargaining phase were almost exact replicas of internal conversations she had during the anger phase etc. There were a couple of emotional monologues that I just skimmed through because they were similar to ones that went before. I think it’s one of those cases where the structure should be more of a general guideline than a rigid framework.

It was a great book though, and one that I would recommend reading if you either want a good old weep to yourself or you’re struggling through feelings of loss yourself. The writing was well-edited and it was a nice way to spend a few afternoons 🙂

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