A story about love, loss and finding hope – against all odds.
Rob Coates can’t believe his luck. There is Anna, his incredible wife, and most precious of all, Jack, their son, who makes every day an extraordinary adventure. Rob feels like he’s won the lottery of life. Or rather – he did. Until the day it all changes when Anna becomes convinced there is something wrong with Jack.
Now Rob sleepwalks through his days, unable to bridge the gulf that separates him from his wife, his son and the business of living. But he’s determined to come to terms with what’s happened-and find a way back to life, and forgiveness.
We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt Review
Unflinchingly Honest and Truly Heartbreaking
This beautiful but painful novel tore at the very threads of me. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare, hearing the words uttered from a doctors mouth that your child is sick. ‘I’ll take their place, let my child be ok and I’ll take their place’ – the deal every parent makes with whatever God or invisible force they believe in. This raw, unflinchingly honest and truly heartbreaking book has left an imprint on my heart and has not left my thoughts since the moment I read the first few pages.
The debut novel, We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt follows Rob, Anna, and Jack as they are given devastating news; Jack, their beautiful and vibrant little boy, has cancer.
As the family navigates through a range of emotions, we watch as Rob clings to hopeful words offered on cancer forums and we cling harder to the pages as he is approached with the hope of a cure through medical trials and holistic methods. Their story is told solely through the eyes of the struggling father. We don’t start at the beginning of the story; Allnutt throws us in the deep end with the most visceral of the five stages of grief: Anger. We feel his desperation, heartbreak, and resentment from the very first page. We know right from the first chapter that this book will be real, emotional and tough to read – but, my god, it is worth every last tear dropped onto the page.
Grief is one of the most difficult emotions to verbalise, the most difficult of all emotions to deal with and one that is different for every single person. This expertly crafted novel tears each of us down to the very same level and throws us chest deep into the pain of a parent navigating the most difficult situation any human can face.
The words feel almost scratched onto the page, as you read Rob’s pain, his unapologetically honest and raw emotions feel almost too real – as if we are intruding on his darkest and most painful diary entries.
It’s one of those books that you want so much for there to be a happy ending because you have fallen so deeply in love with the characters that you just want everything to be ok. I wanted to reach through the pages and hug them tight enough to stick all the broken parts back together. But the most outstanding part of this book is that it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t offer you an unrealistic ending. It doesn’t placate you with easy fixes or miracle cures. Because this is the real world and the real world doesn’t work like that.
Instead, it shows you how, in the deepest and darkest recesses of grief, you can find the tiniest sliver of hope. The smallest ounce of love and forgiveness that fills in all the cracks.
It reminded me of the ancient technique ‘Kintsugi‘. It’s a centuries-old art that repairs broken pottery with gold. Filling in all the cracks rather than throwing away a treasured item. For those who don’t know about it, the art was born from the Japanese feeling of mottainai, an expression of regret when something is wasted; and mushin, the acceptance of change.
Within We Own the Sky, I think Luke Allnutt managed to take this incredibly broken and painful story, and rather than trying to fix it, he painstakingly painted the cracks with sparkling gold. Highlighting the pain but finding a way to allow the memories to stay present. Highlighting all that ‘was’ in a way never to be forgotten.
“Luke Allnutt managed to take this incredibly broken and painful story, and rather than trying to fix it, he painstakingly painted the cracks with sparkling gold.”
But of all the pain, of all the beauty and all the skill that Luke Allnutt has shown, I think the aspect of the novel that made me respect Allnutt as an author more than anything, was the tone he chose to take.
All too often, fathers are portrayed in such a different light. The alpha male, the breadwinner. The father who will stay strong, resilient and help his wife as she falls apart with grief.
But fathers grieve too. Men cry. Men fall apart.
The bond between father and son is just as important as that between mother and son. There are so many books on the market about a mother’s grief after the loss of a child, but to read such an emotionally raw story told from the fathers perspective is a real eye-opener. The fact that Allnutt was prepared to fully invest in the broken-hearted reactions of Rob make this novel not only a stand out debut but one that will live in my heart for a very very long time.
It’s never easy to read a book that bears pain so easily on the page. It can be uncomfortable and confronting, but this book, despite breaking my heart and leaving me a puddle of mess on the end of my child’s bed, somehow put me back together again. I won’t tell you to ‘hug your children close tonight’ – but you will have to read the book to know why.
A truly remarkable debut novel – do not attempt to read without a box of tissues close at hand.
Published by: Trapeze
(Many thanks to Trapeze and Tracy Fenton for inviting us to take part in this blog tour.)