Elizabeth Nobel’s sixth novel, When You Were Mine, is the story of Susannah, a woman approaching 40 who’s discontented with her life. She’s obsessed with Rob, her high school sweetheart, after she bumps into him at her brother’s wedding.
Susannah has one marriage behind her and is now living with an older partner, Doug, who comes with a ready-made family of three children. A family to which she’s never really connected.
A dual storyline in the novel includes the relationship Susannah has with her best friend, Amelia. The development of Amelia and Susannah together portrays a rich and honest friendship.
From the beginning, the reader knows Susannah is unhappy with her older lover, Doug. She’s making herself stay because she thinks it’s all that’s left for her. She’s afraid that if she leaves Doug, she’ll be just another mid-life woman alone in the world. This is not how her life was supposed to turn out.
Susannah convinces herself that it will be okay to visit Robb’s parents. She’d been in and out of their home daily during high school when she and Rob were an item.
. . .Pg101[She told herself she was doing the right thing. That too much time had passed. She knew them well—they’d been close. It was nice of her—overdue, but nice, to go and visit Frank, ill now and, she imagined, mostly confined to home. It was the decent thing to do.]. . .
Susannah is welcomed warmly by Robb’s parents. His mother questions her about marriage and children. Robb’s father adds that Robb has never loved anyone as much as Susannah. Lois, Robb’s mother, encourages Susannah to return anytime.
Susannah, in a last ditch effort to revive her relationship with Doug invites him to what was once one of their favorite get-aways in the country. They’d enjoyed many romantic weekends at the same location in the early days of their relationship.
. . .Pg119[At dinner, Douglas, who didn’t seem any more relaxed by his afternoon with legal documents than she was with her massage, ordered chicken with forty cloves of garlic. It felt like a sigh. Then he had a cheese plate and a glass of port. Which seemed more like an open invitation to indigestion and possibly a migraine than a prelude to lovemaking. She was making too much of this, she knew. Putting too much pressure on herself, and probably on him, too. But she couldn’t relax. She compared everything that he said and did with everything that she wished she would say and do, and each time, found him wanting.]. . .
While Susannah’s relationship with Doug is falling further apart, her relationship with Amelia is growing tighter. She wouldn’t dream of allowing Amelia, who’s developed cancer, to go to a chemo appointment alone. Susannah does her best to think of everything Amelia might need or want before Amelia could possibly think of it.
Susannah’s life continues traveling on fast forward. She learns Rob marries a younger woman after they’d met up at her brother’s wedding. There’s no chance for them now. He’s a married man.
. . .Pg204[And then, early in the month—out of the blue—Rob telephoned her. She’d given her mobile phone number to Lois when she’d seen her that time—shyly passing her a business card from her wallet when she’d asked her about work. His mother must have given it to him.]. . .
Rob wants to know if she’d like to get together and she readily agrees. Their relationship escalates quickly from just having coffee and then lunches, to a steamy affair.
It isn’t long before Susannah’s past is sitting in front of her in the present. It reminds her, every second of every day, of what might have been. For now, she lives on memories, affection, trust and magic.
Susannah is having trouble keeping her relationship with Rob secret. They’ve all grown up together . . .Pg232[The trouble with having a friend like Amelia, someone who’d known you so well for so long, was that lying to her, even by omission, got very difficult after a certain point. Amelia knew something was up, but she didn’t know what, and it was driving her crazy.]. . .
Susannah performs well at making a colossal mess of her life over the next 75 pages or so and she reaches her breaking point.
She packs basic necessities and heads to her family summer home in the South of France. The first few days she sleeps, wakes up late, drinks tea on the terrace and then goes back to bed and sleeps more.
Around page 250, Susannah’s world crumbles completely. I can’t say it’s not her fault. She’s set most of it in motion and now it’s time to see if she can cope with living alone. Amelia stands beside Susannah as she struggles with her life choices.
When You Were Mine by Elizabeth Nobel has twist and turns, ups and downs, triumph and tragedy. I enjoyed the novel immensely and recommend it without reservation.
Of the five Elizabeth Nobel novels I’ve read, Things I Want My Daughters To Know remains my favorite.