Tess Woods delivers a perfect blend of romance and contemporary women’s fiction in her latest novel, Beautiful Messy Love. Humour, lust and love are intricately threaded into topical themes centred around asylum seekers, terrorism, prejudice, cancer and depression. Tess takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster, calling it as she sees it in her achingly honest and down to earth way.
Nick and Lily, siblings from Tess’s debut novel Love at First Flight are young adults, navigating life after the sudden death of their father a few years before.
On first impression Nick is a shallow man, enjoying one night stands that come all too easily thanks to his hunky AFL star status. He meets Anna (Anwar), a political refugee from Egypt with a traumatic past. A social media frenzy ensues, threatening to ruin Nick’s career and turning the local muslim community against Anna’s tight knit family.
Lily is studying oncology, but worries whether she will be able to cope with the emotional demands of this line of medicine. She meets Toby, who’s wife is dying in hospital, and sparks fly. They begin a passionate affair that draws criticism from family and friends on both sides.
The book is divided into three parts, with chapters alternating in different points of view between Nick, Lily, Anna and Toby, allowing a deep insight into the psyche of each character. Their four lives become entwined without them realising it, giving the reader a ‘fly on the wall’ experience as they see events unfold before the characters do. This helps create a tension that makes it difficult to put the book down.
I liked all the characters, however my favourite was Anna. Raised by a muslim father and a christian mother, her Egyptian background was extremely well drawn and I learnt quite a lot from her. Anna is the epitome of understanding, compassion and acceptance. Her ability to move on from tragedy, while maintaining a passion for life, love and lust for Nick, and unconditional love for a refugee boy under her care is inspiring. She is a strong young woman who makes up her own mind, unconstrained by religious, cultural or societal ‘rules’.
Authors have a unique ability to access the private minds and hearts of their readers, allowing them to tackle difficult subjects in an easily accessible format, one-on-one. Tess has taken this gift seriously, and presented her themes in a humane, non-preachy way. A line from Beautiful Messy Love that resonated with me reads;
‘Change happens if you strike a chord in the heart of just one person.’
And Tess certainly does that, not only through her writing, but in the charities she champions, such as Share The Dignity (access to sanitary pads for homeless women). Head over to her Facebook page and I imagine you, too will be caught up in her enthusiasm for the causes she supports.
After listening to her inspirational speech at the Perth launch of Beautiful Messy Love, I started her novel from the very back – the acknowledgments page (apparently the longest list of acknowledgements ever published by Harper Collins). These last pages shine brightly with Tess’s infectious personality. I laughed hard, then I cried. Then I buckled myself in and started to read the rest of her book. Throughout the story this pattern was repeated. Deep despair lightened by hilarious moments. Cringe-worthy male behaviour eclipsed by women who are not afraid to own their sexuality.
The novel is good. Very good. And brave. And funny. And sad. And real.
You never know in a Tess Woods novel whether there will be a happily ever after. Her books are strewn with grit, edge and uncertainty, making for a suspenseful read that deviates from the traditional ‘romance genre’.
I finished the book on a Saturday afternoon, curled up on the couch under a cosy blanket while a winter storm did its thing outside. It was pure pleasure. I just wanted you to know that, Tess.
Authors put so much of themselves into a book. They write late at night and early in the morning, their families learning to adapt to the demands of the publishing process. They deal with crippling self doubt, barely hanging in there at times. It’s hard to comprehend this when all you see is the glossy finished product while you’re lazing by the pool on vacation, or sitting out a raging storm. I’m glad you stuck with the writing gig, Tess! I’m looking forward to your next novel.
You can find Tess Woods’ social media links at tesswoods.com.au.
Thank you to HarperCollins for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review. Click here for links to purchase a copy.