Category Archives: Coleman, Rowan

‘The Summer of Impossible Things’ by Rowan Coleman

Man asleep on motorbike in Saigon.

Man asleep on motorbike in Saigon.  Not at all relevant to post but I’m writing this on my iPad using a dodgy Internet connection and I can’t source images.

We are used to time being linear, the past happening before the present, the present before the future.  Although the past can influence the present and the future, and the present can also influence the future, it is not possible to alter the past to bring about a different present and future.

Luna and Pia’s mother, Marissa, has taken her own life after many years of depression, which she has taken pains to hide under a facade of family happiness.  At the start of the story, the two sisters travel from England to New York, where their mother grew up and where she met their father, Henry, a photographer involved in the filming of Saturday Night Fever (a real, girlie, teenage film, starring John Travolta).  Already they know, from videos Marissa left for them after her death, that Luna is not Henry’s daughter but the result of rape.  

Shortly after their arrival, Luna, rational Luna, thirty years old, a physicist, a young woman in a proper job, starts her time travel adventures.  She’s taken back to 1977, to when Saturday Night Fever was being shot in Bay Bridge, the Odyssey 2001 Club, teenagers in flares and mullet hair-dos, and – perish the thought – girls wearing dresses.  She meets her mother (known to her friends as ‘Riss’) as a young girl,  a dressmaker, a blue-collar Italian-American and a devout Catholic.  Riss is happy, in love with Henry, and with lots of friends, but Luna knows this is about to go terribly wrong.  If she can travel back in time, Luna wonders, can she change the past, can she prevent the rape happening to ruin her mother’s happiness?

Although the premise on which this novel is built is ingenious (as you see),  it took me some time to get into it, but then that might be me, as I’m not into time travel or fantasy of any sort.  The denouement that I expected happened at about 80%, but what made it all worth it was that, at that point, the storyline ratcheted up another gear, asking more questions and making more demands on the main character, some of them very difficult to resolve.

This is the first Rowan Coleman novel I’ve read, even though (I think) she is my Facebook friend, as she was running comps in Facebook posts a few years ago.  Her literary style is stunning.  She describes everything and everyone in lucid, meaningful detail, even characters who only appear in one brief scene.  This story involves a long cast, but we remember who is who because of the good descriptions.  The names of characters were also distinctive – Luna, and Pia’s nickname, Pea, which I thought delightful.  

A very emotional novel, this, although some characters needed development, Pea, for instance.  She started off as a fragile, recovering addict, and, although she seemed to grow in personal strength as the novel progressed, and we’re given to understand that she did kick her addictions, we’re not told how.

Do I recommend The Summer of Impossible Things.  Yes, definitely.