When I First Held You by Anstey Harris

Published: January 24, 2023

Lake Union Publishing

Pages: 317

Genre: Literary Fiction

KKECReads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I received a copy of this book for free, and I leave my review voluntarily.

Anstey Harris is based in the Unesco Biosphere of Galloway and South Ayrshire in beautiful south-west Scotland, where she lives with her violinmaker husband and their dog, Pen. A former teacher & university lecturer, as well as outstanding cook, Anstey runs the popular writing retreat, WriteSouthWestScotland.com. Anstey writes about the things that make people tick, the things that bind us, and the things that can rip us apart. In novels, Anstey tries to celebrate uplifting ideas and prove that life is good and that happiness is available to everyone once we work out where to look (usually inside ourselves). Her short stories tend not to end quite so well…

In 1960s Glasgow, anti-nuclear activists Judith and Jimmy fall in love. But their future hopes are dashed when their protestors’ squat is raided and many, including Jimmy, are sent to prison. Pregnant and with no word from Jimmy, Judith is forced to enter an unmarried mothers’ home, give up their baby and learn to live with her grief.
More than half a century later, Judith’s Mending Shop restores broken treasures, just as Judith herself has been bound back together by her late, much-missed partner, Catherine. But her tranquillity is shattered when Jimmy―so different and yet somehow the same―reappears, yearning to unpick the painful past.
Realising they each know only half of the other’s story, Jimmy and Judith finally break the silence that tore apart what might have been their family. Amid heartbreak and hope, how much can now be mended?

“Sometimes, the irony of life is ludicrous.”

Judith is trying to decide what she should do. Should she follow her heart and let someone else run her late partner’s beloved shop, or should she stick it out? When the last person she ever expected shows up and flips her world upside down, everything changes. The past comes crashing into the future, blending with the present.

This was beautiful. The writing, the story, the characters, the heartbreak- all of it. I wasn’t sure what to expect in this novel, but my heart needed this.

The characters in this book are beautiful. I loved how the story was told, how things unfolded, and how the plot moved between the past and the present. The character narration was vivid, emotional, and honest.

Reading the acknowledgments at the end and how close this story is to Anstey Harris’ life only made me appreciate the morals of this brilliant book.

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