Title: Beautiful Messy Love
Author: Tess Woods
Published: July 24th 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Australian, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
When football star Nick Harding hobbles into the Black Salt Cafe the morning after the night before, he is served by Anna, a waitress with haunted-looking eyes and no interest in footballers famous or otherwise. Nick is instantly drawn to this exotic, intelligent girl. But a relationship between them risks shame for her conservative refugee family and backlash for Nick that could ruin his career.
Meanwhile, Nick’s sister, Lily, is struggling to finish her medical degree. When she meets Toby, it seems that for the first time she is following her heart, not the expectations of others. Yet what starts out as a passionate affair with a man who has just buried his wife slips quickly into dangerous dependency.
Through attraction, breakups, triumphs and tragedies, these two couples learn just how much their beautiful messy love might cost. A West Side Story for the modern day.
I have literally spent a whole day locked in an intense relationship with the four main characters from Beautiful Messy Love, written by Tess Woods. My reading of Beautiful Messy Love reminds me of my experience reading the debut novel by Tess Woods titled, Love at First Flight. This book was completely addictive, compulsive and all-encompassing. Perhaps this is the type relationship I am supposed to have with the writing of Tess Woods – acute, passionate and utterly devouring. There is just something about Tess’ writing that seems to gel so easily with me. To surmise this spellbinding story, Beautiful Messy Love is a contemporary life lit style novel, featuring two different couples and their resulting experiences of love – in all its guises.
Onto the main story of Beautiful Messy Love. First we have Lily, who is ceremoniously dumped over a lamb korma by her long-term boyfriend, Ben. Lily and Ben’s relationship has come to an abrupt end when Ben announces his plans to move to Kenya, to help build a school, rather than move in with her. Lily is completely floored by this announcement and her response is to throw herself even harder into her medical degree. In her fifth year and on rotations in oncology, Lily crosses paths with Toby, the husband of Jen, a patient on Lily’s rotation ward. When Jen passes away, her last wishes were for Lily to check up on Toby. Only a few days shy of his wife’s burial, Toby embarks on a passionate love affair with Lily. Their relationship is as passionate as it is secretive. But, problems arise when Toby worries about the backlash from those closest to him over his love and lust for Lily. Now we come to the other two main players in Beautiful Messy Love, Anna and Nick. Nick Harding is Lily’s brother and a star footballer. When Nick decides to turn his playboy ways around, his blessing in disguise comes from Anna, a young Egyptian refugee, who works at a local cafe. Drawn to Anna’s presence, which is far removed from his typical love interests, the two tentatively take steps towards a relationship. There is much to navigate in Nick and Anna’s newfound interest in one another. From dodging the media’s interest in their love affair, balancing Anna’s private life (two jobs, care for her depressed mother, volunteer work at Asylum Assist and her support for Ricky a young refugee boy with cancer) and the threats to Nick’s career. Then there is the obvious cultural and religious divide that exists between this couple. In Beautiful Messy Love, Tess Woods opens up the raw business of love, she examines common life problems and looks closely at how our dreams come into play when we enter into the tricky world of relationships.
So almost two years after Tess Woods left me breathless after her debut novel, Love at First Flight, the feelings have returned all over again through my experience of reading Beautiful Messy Love. Some of the themes that I loved in Tess’ first novel have popped up again (instant attraction, forbidden love, honesty, family loyalty and self fulfilment) but woven into this powerful story of the intricacies of love is so much more. Woods has developed a fearless approach to her writing this time around, tackling some topical and controversial topics within her affecting life lit novel. These include such topics as Australia’s treatment of refugees – especially young children in detention, religious/cultural persecution, terrorism, media corruption, morally complex relationships, cancer treatment and depression.
My connection to the characters featured in Beautiful Messy Love was swift and instant. I took an immediate liking to Anna, the young and inspiring Egyptian refugee. I saw subtle shades of Anna in the author, Tess Woods and I did wonder at some points as to whether Anna was a protagonist drawn from deep within Tess’ own personality. Anna is the shooting star of this book, her back story is as heartbreaking as it is uplifting. Just how this young woman manages to juggle the responsibilities of her employment, unconditional care for her loved ones and come to terms with the loss of her twin sister was nothing short of inspiring to read. Through Anna, we as the reader glean an important lesson in modern-day prejudice, religious misunderstanding and the compassion that is needed in our refugee crisis in Australia. Apart from Anna, there are a body of supporting characters that are realistic, well drawn and truly have much to give to this story. Through the character of Nick Harding, we are given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in the life of a high-profile AFL player – which really was an eye-opening experience! Through the character of Nick’s sister Lily, we are able to step into the difficult shoes of a medical student. Finally, through the character of Toby, we learn about the struggles of balancing your loyalty to your family business with your aspirations. These are four varied life lessons, balanced well by the accomplished hand of Tess Woods. On a side note, I was pleased to learn of the link between brother and sister duo Nick and Lily, who are the children of Mel, the female lead in Love at First Flight, the first novel written by Tess Woods. But I do need to make it explicitly clear, that although these characters are loosely linked to the debut novel from Woods, you do not need to read this novel first to appreciate Beautiful Messy Love.
With love in the title of this book, you would expect much of the focus of the novel to be zoned in on the precarious nature of love, in all its varied forms. In Beautiful Messy Love, we are introduced to many forms of love. These experiences range from instant love, lust, sex based love, ethically challenged love, love based on loyalty and the unconditional love of family. It is an emotional ride that gives room for Woods to include moments of high drama, emotion, deep passion but it is also balanced out with opportunities for humour, mostly emanating from the embrace of Anna’s extended clan. However, what I took from following each of the individual pathways in love featured in this novel, is the self actualisation process that comes from falling in or out of love.
A familiar setting (Perth, Western Australia) topped my enjoyment of Beautiful Messy Love, despite the fact that I was somewhat dismayed that one of the leads I had grown to love, did not quite get their happily ever after. However, it is a gentle reminder on behalf of the author that this is how real life works, not everyone is destined for a happily ever after, despite how hard they work for it. The second novel from Tess Woods is an excellent example of contemporary women’s fiction, which is firmly rooted in the here and now of Australian life. Beautiful Messy Love is nothing short of a five star read for me.
*I received a copy of this book via the author, Tess Woods and the publisher, Harper Collins Books Australia, in exchange for an honest review as part of the official publicity tour.
Beautiful Messy Love, by Tess Woods is published in Australia on the 24th July 2017 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Beautiful Messy Love, Tess Woods, visit here.