Book Review: ‘The Years That Followed’ Lacks Depth

Review by Adrina Palmer

Acclaimed international bestseller Catherine Dunne’s thrilling US debut is the story of two wronged women bent on revenge at all costs.

‘The Years That Followed’ trails two women from the 1960s to 2016. Loose connections between the two protagonists make for an interesting read but not necessarily a realistic read. Written by seasoned writer Catherine Dunne, each story would have been capable of entertaining without being forcefully woven together. When Pilar and Calista finally do meet, the connection, long awaited from the second chapter, is underwhelming at best. All those chapters leading to the possibility of a more tantalizing connection of joining the two lives could have been much more enchanting. As it is, the stories are engrossing and poignant, but the ending is lackluster in comparison to the grandiose expected ending.

Meet Calista, a naive teenager living with her parent and twin brother in Dublin. At the tender age of seventeen her father’s business associate, Alexandros, steals Calista away to his home in Mediterranean Cyprus for a shotgun wedding before their baby is born. He waits years to start hitting Calista, but by then the abuse is not unexpected as she has never quite lived up to his expectations of a dutiful wife. Calista’s only fault is her inability to blend into a foreign culture, create lasting friendships, and be the perfect younger trophy wife for the wealthy and prominent family. Each new change Calista hopes will settle Alexandros’ waging temper and return him to the lover she once knew. When a daughter, a son, and a new home fail to calm his temper, Calista tries to run home to Dublin permanently. Alexandros puts an alert on his children’s passports and takes them home, leaving Calista childless at the airport. For the next decade he denies his now ex-wife access to her children, but with the help of her former mother-in-law and brother-in-law, Calista finds small secret moments with her daughter. Before long her feelings for her former brother-in-law turn to a less than sisterly love. Alexandros is not content to let Calista have any shred of happiness and soon pulls every thread until her life unravels completely.

Meet Pilar, a teenager determined to evade the penniless pitfalls her mother endured. As soon as Pilar is of age, her mother pushes her to the big city, Madrid, with the few bits of coin tucked away over the years. For the next several years, Pilar works her way up from laundress living in a boarding house at a convent, to a woman running her own wealthy apartment building with the help of a family friend. Settled into her new life, Pilar seeks love for the first time in all her years of devout hard work. She soon falls into the much older arms of Petros, a business man visiting from Cyprus who soon devotes more time to Madrid. When Petros chooses retirement over his love of Pilar, he is unaware of her pregnant belly. Without a father to help raise the baby, Pilar puts her infant son into the arms of a nun for safe delivery to a young couple. Her life becomes even more lonesome over the coming years, so she decides to seek what love remains, her son. For a brief moment, the lives of Pilar and Calista intertwine late in their lives with the hope they can find happiness in the same city.

The elements did not align for a stellar read in this novel. The characters are stereotypical. Calista is easy to sympathize with; she has done nothing to deserve the way Alexandros treats her. Alexandros is not unique in his behavior, and more could have been done to develop his character, as well as, to develop his father and mother. The entire story revolving around Calista is very narrow; you are only meant to feel for her and the children. Even the conflict with her mother barely hits the surface. The bond with her twin brother could have been played up to more substantial than it reads. The final choice Calista made, which was built up from the prologue to the epilogue, is understandable but loses momentum with the delivery.

Pilar is too tough to empathize with; her emotions are too closed off to fully suffer along with her. The decisions that propel her into the future leave much to be desired, along with the very few relationships she manages to build. There is no strong desire to relate to her, just a desire to see if just once, Pilar will make a meaningful connection to another human being. While she does manage to make a connection by the end of the novel, even this relationship is only half-baked. Pilar’s story pulls right out; Dunne should have focused more on Calista and the real connections she has, instead of forcing her to share the spotlight with the overly reserved Pilar.

More issues abound in this novel. The background, while detailed, pays no attention to time despite each chapter labeled by year. The only mention of era related scenery is a war in Cyprus. With the shadows of Greece, London, Ireland, Spain, and Cyprus, more should have been done to differentiate the surroundings. The years could just fall off without any real notice except for the necessity to understand the ages of the main characters. The two stories are told in a series of flashbacks incapable of staying in order. Dunne should have taken the characters back and told the story forwards from there, instead of taking the characters back a few years and then back a few more with little grace. Finally, some surprises were mentioned and then dropped without being picked back up, leaving unanswered questions which is not acceptable.

‘The Years That Followed’ has too many issues to be a provocative read. My hope was completely built up based on a strong beginning, but the ending failed to deliver. I would have preferred more fully developed characters to go along with the fully developed plot. The ending was unsatisfactory only because the connection between Calista and Pilar was too transparent when a bond was expected. Wait for the paperback version.

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James McDonald
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