Harper Collins, £10.00
Kathleen Tessaro's first novel 'Elegance' was a massive success, thanks mainly to the original and clever concept behind it - she took an actual 1960s self-help manual on how to be elegant and used it as inspiration for her fictitious love story. Although the idea was fresh and unique Tessaro still had some way to go in creating well-rounded deeper characters and a more sophisticated plot. But she's obviously a quick learner as her latest novel, 'Innocence', displays a more subtle touch and a greater ambition.
'Innocence' is a haunting love story or a romantic ghost story, depending on which way you look at it. The book unravels in two different times – 1987 is the year the central character Evie leaves America behind to study acting in London. She makes friends with another American girl, the distinctive, flamboyant and troubled Robbie, who is determined that Evie will become a star. But then Evie meets the struggling rock musician Jake and her whole life changes course. Fourteen years later and we meet a very different Evie. She's a single mother and is teaching to earn a living, her dreams long since abandoned until one day the now dead Robbie shows up in her life and everything changes again.
Tessaro fluidly flits back and forth between the past and present and wonderfully captures the atmosphere and cultural landscape of the 1980s. Evie and Robbie are two complex characters that you can't help but love, despite all their flaws, and the story is a telling exploration of how life can get in the way of the dreams of our youth. Tessaro also makes great use of the talents of Shakespeare, Eliot and Dickinson with samples of their work peppered throughout the book and Tessaro herself has the eye of the poet - her vivid descriptive prose rests easily beside the simple style and tight dialogue of the story.
But most importantly, 'Innocence' has a level of emotional depth that Tessaro failed to reach in 'Elegance' and you find yourself really caring about what happens to Evie and the happy ending is not only a fitting but a realistic one. No doubt the fact that Tessaro herself trained as an actress and emigrated to the UK from the States gives her second novel that added sense of credibility – she is obviously writing from her own heart and experience. Like 'Elegance', 'Innocence' has plenty of style but thankfully also plenty of substance. A charming read.