by Kevin Brennan
When the thirty-eight-year-old San Francisco doctor meets her new patient, a handsome British expat with the unlikely name of Dylan Cakebread (and an uncanny resemblance to Jude Law), she’s convinced it’s the start of her own relationship novel. He’s an architect, no less — always a key piece of her most indulgent fantasies — and the heroine of a relationship novel always gets her fantasy man, right? Though their shaky start raises red flags that her oldest girlfriend, Jules, is quick to point out, Sarah can’t help it. She falls hard for Dylan and it appears to be a two-way street.
But maybe meeting your perfect mate in the exam room isn’t the best opening act. Sarah thinks she’s the cure for what ails him, but soon she learns the secret Dylan has been keeping from her. Now she has to choose between happiness and the illusion of it — if Dylan doesn’t take the choice out of her hands first.
It’s starting to look like this isn’t her relationship novel at all: it’s his.
Kevin Brennan wrote one of my favourite books I read last year, Yesterday Road, a warm-hearted tale of memory and discovery. With Occasional Soulmates, Brennan has put his own twist on the chick-lit genre, gently subverting the standard tropes while respecting the genre and its audience.
The book is written from the point of view of Sarah Phelan, a doctor who has almost given up on finding the perfect man when he arrives in her waiting room. Smart, handsome – a Jude Law look-a-like – and an architect to boot, Dylan Cakebread appears to be the man of her dreams, yet as their relationship develops Sarah learns that Dylan Cakebread isn’t the person she thought he was, in fact she realises she doesn’t really know him at all.
Written in the first person, Brennan effortlessly draws us into the mind of Dr Phelan. She’s smart, funny, engaging, but not without the odd neurosis or two, in fact the perfect protagonist for this type of tale. As she stumbled through the early awkwardness of a new relationship, I couldn’t help but warm to her. There were no false notes, no plot-led decisions – instead Brennan has built a credible and compelling story on character alone. And the support cast are equally as compelling, especially Phelan’s relationship with her mother and her sister.
In the portrayal of Dylan Cakebread, Brennan has managed to capture a particular type of English reserve very well indeed. There were a few missteps regarding slang, and his brother was probably the least rounded of all the book’s cast, but the mystery of who Dylan Cakebread really is played out very well and held my interest throughout.
Throughout the book, Brennan – through the narration of Sarah – often refers back to a the different stages of a relationship novel, and while I enjoyed the conceit it occasionally came across as a little too knowing. That said, it is a beautifully written book and I enjoyed it very much indeed.
If you are looking for an intelligent romance with a lot of heart, then this is the book for you. Recommended.
Dylan S Hearn
(This review has appeared elsewhere.)