Book Title: The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay
Author: Andrea Gillies
Publication date: 27/03/2014
Publishers: Short Books
Genre: Adult contemporary romance
Official plot description: All her life, Nina Findlay has been in a love triangle with two Italian brothers – Paolo, whom she marries, and Luca, who remains her best friend – until a dramatic series of events changes everything, apparently for good. Estranged from them both, facing a future alone, Nina escapes to a tiny Greek island. When an accident lands her in the local hospital, she finds herself telling her story to a mysteriously attentive doctor, and is enlightened about the past and about herself in ways she couldn’t have imagined.
Hey guys! I’ve been reading a lot this past week since I have been commuting to London and I just finished the second book which was sent to me by Short Books, a UK publisher of fiction and non-fiction. It is certainly a mid-life crisis story and, although it is not the type of book I would usually go for, the boldness and impact of the characters and their development makes this book very engaging and enjoyable.
Following the style of my previous Short Books review, I would like to start by discussing my first impressions of the book. I decided to stop making first impression notes after chapter one as I ended up filling a whole word doc, my head bubbling with instant reactions. So, after I share them with you I will move on the main points of the review.
First Impressions – My Thoughts on Chapter One
We are thrown straight into the storyline which I like, no waiting around for significant plot points to happen. The book begins with such a momentous moment, the catalyst that sends Nina on her path to enlightenment: a forgotten camera, a minibus and maybe even a subconscious change of heart. I was hooked pretty quickly because I wanted to know whether Nina was alright after the accident and whether or not we should even care if she was or not.
“The hot air that drifted in smelled firstly of rosemary and thyme, and then of warmed lavender” – page 10.
I absolutely love the descriptions of the beautiful Greek island. The idyllic vision of white buildings against blue skies, with intense and relaxing aroma’s flooding the air contrasts effectively with Nina’s sense of unrest. I also think the small island is represented as quite dreamlike which reflects Nina’s situation. She is in a sort of no-where land in her life. She is in shock from experiencing such a traumatic accident and as a result of the sudden changes she has recently had to face in terms of her personal relationships and the set-up of her life in general. The hospital and its location is a picturesque safe haven for her after the accident and the addition of a kind and sympathetic stranger enhances this sense of recaptured peace. But, however peaceful the island, she is still preoccupied by the guilt and worry she feels surrounding her previous mistakes and drastic impulses.
We are introduced to an acquaintance. We are enticed to read on in the next chapter as Gillies clearly indicates that it will not remain this way. Who will this Dr Christos be to Nina by the end of the book? Nina is lonely at this point and we know she is likely to disclose personal information to this new and unexpected friend.
I jotted down notes on any scrap of paper I could find as I continued to read on. After gathering up my thoughts upon finishing this book I have found that I actually have a lot to say about it. I become very drawn in by the characters and I always say that is the most important thing about a story, which is why I enjoyed it so much.
The World through Nina’s Eyes
I like how as the reader we get an entire panoramic view of Nina’s life, from her younger days growing up between the two brothers next door, to her experiences as a middle aged women, much the wiser for her years.
Young Nina is drawn toward Luca, a flirt who teases her and gives her attention, all the while denying that they are anything more than close friends. On Nina’s other side stands Paolo, a much more serious individual who doesn’t have time for their childish games, but who still cares about Nina just as much as Luca, if not more. When reading these sections about her teenage life I feel that we are influenced into liking Luca because we see him through her naive eyes. He is “the fun one,” whereas Paolo is somewhat standoffish.
However, as Nina grows up the dynamics of their situation changes and our impression of each character is warped by time and by the different events that occur. I found it so interesting how much my perspective of the characters changed over the course of the book. The characters are written so brilliantly, they change, adapt and make mistakes just as a person does in real life. Gillies has created real people with her words and I really like the fact that none of them are perfect. They are so human.
The Philosophy of Life
As a result of the character being so real, the storyline becomes all the more powerful and emotional. There are these kind of philosophical thoughts about life slotted here and there throughout the story. For example…
“In any case I’m sure nothing you’ve ever done has been a cause for real guilt, not outside the normal parameters of human error” – page 238.
I love that this book is a reminder of the qualities of being human and that we cannot be expected to avoid mistakes entirely throughout our whole lives. Another similar quote which I enjoyed was…
“She knew better than to make an enemy of Luca; she’d seen, over the years, that the opponent always came off badly, and there’s no worse enemy than an ex-confidant” – page 304.
I think this is such a clever realisation, the consequences which could arise from making an enemy out of the person you’ve told everything to. Some of these thoughts are also laced with humour and resonate perhaps with the reader’s memories and with lessons previously learned perhaps. For example…
“The last time they’d had a proper talk must have been after Anna’s funeral, at the wake that had progressed, as these things often did, from polite teatime chat over ham sandwiches to late-night booze and brutal tribal honesty” – page 236.
This book is written for the wise reader, who has experienced life and all it has to offer. There are certainly themes of growing up and thinking about where the future will take you, which is a really interesting area of thought to explore and Gillies does it so well by building up such believable characters.
This book contains some very strong female characters and I think female empowerment is certainly one of the key messages. As a reader, my opinion of Dr Christos changes dramatically towards the end of the book. The chapter where he initiates a sexual relationship with Nina was quite shocking as I almost felt like he was pressurising her when she was clearly still in a vulnerable place.
I was pleased to see her leave him behind at the end of the book which is such a sudden and unexpected turn around. Throughout much of the story we see Christos as a trustworthy friend. However, after learning about his indecent behaviours, his disrespect to Nurse Yannis and his lies to Nina about both these issues, we see a very different side to him.
Nina’s mother, Anna, also has a big role to play, and I couldn’t reach the end of this review without at least mentioning her. I enjoyed the relationship between mother and daughter and the revelations about Nina’s parents and things that happened in Anna’s life were also had a high emotional impact.
This book is filled with love and emotion and it is easy to become swept up in the storyline because it is represented realistically.
A Good Man
All the way through we are judging which of the three men is truly a “good man.” I think this is a significant part of Nina’s enlightenment, she needs to learn his in order to move on in her life.
On pages 367-368 there is a really interesting moment between Nina and Paolo as they discuss their relationship. Nina fears that it like a broken teacup and even if you put it back together it will never be the same. To this Paolo says…
“Well, that’s crap isn’t it?” – page 368.
I love this because it throws so much light on Nina’s situation. She needs to stop thinking about her life as mess that cannot be fixed and learn to count her blessings, not her mistakes. By the end of the book I actually placed Paolo in the misunderstood characters category. We can finally see that he has had good intentions all along, and he becomes a better man than Luca and Christos put together.
Towards the end of the book when Paolo and Christos are discussing the prospect of Nina leaving one for the other. Paolo says…
“I’d be her Luca, you see. It’d be my turn to be Luca” – page 371.
I think she was always meant to be with Paolo but she needed that time in Greece with Christos to realise it. Paolo knows that Nina’s strong heart sometimes falls into the wrong hands, but he is ready to protect her from that.
There are several scandalous moments between Nina and Luca, another reason why Nina is in no way perfect. However, Luca actually becomes quite an unlikable character as we learn more about his changing moods towards Nina and the emotional mind games he plays with her, whilst being married himself.
A Final Revelation
! *SPOLIERS AHEAD* !
Maybe it isn’t supposed to be much of a secret, but it certainly hadn’t dawned on me that Nina is actually suicidal at the beginning of the story. Had she not forgotten her camera the story would have been very different. The accident actually saves her in more ways than one. This added another dimension to the storyline because it becomes clear that all the events described throughout the course of the book actually affected her yet more deeply than I realised.
As author Lisa Ziedner quite rightfully pointed out, The Enlightenment of Nina Findlay is…
“A rich, utterly convincing portrait of one woman’s midlife meltdown.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed my review of this book, let me know your thoughts in the comments!
Lots of love,