On a seemingly ordinary morning, eighty year old Robbie leaves his partner Emily, sleeping in bed, changes his clothes, feeds their dogs then does something that will completely shatter Emily’s world. ‘Together’, begins on this day, the last day of Robbie’s life, and slowly tells Robbie and Emily’s story backwards, from 2016 back to 1962. As Cohen unfolds their story, Robbie’s motives for his actions that morning slowly become clearer as a secret emerges which even their beloved son can never know, and which the couple have spent their lives running from.
A warning though, ‘Together’ requires a constant stash of Kleenex from page one. In the first part of this story Robbie and Emily are celebrating 43 love filled years together along with their beloved son and grandchildren in Maine. They have been grounded and highly successful in their professional lives - Emily as a doctor and Robbie as a boat builder- but with Robbie showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s, it is clear that their time together is drawing to a close. From then on, Cohen takes us back to each integral moment in the couple’s relationship, from their meeting, to their decision to very much sacrifice everything to be together, to the final big reveal that will leave you stunned, rapt, and thanks to Julie Cohen’s beautiful writing, ultimately moved.
‘Together’ is frequently being referred to as a love story, but Cohen’s gift for brilliant characterization and unique story telling make this so much more. If you love David Nicholls ‘One Day’ or Jojo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ this compelling and unpredictable story is an ideal match for you.
Like Em and Dex in David Nicholls ‘One Day’, Robbie and Emily are complex, fun and vivid characters that are a joy to read about. Readers very much love and invest in them from page one.
Cohen’s understated yet passionate and moving writing very much helps to create this, and while some may find the reversed timeline a little difficult to get their head around at first, this unique structure works perfectly for Cohen’s story. The narrative is well thought out and I found myself going back and rereading passages again, immersing myself in the couple's memories and story more and more, as moments seemed to take on whole new meanings.
Robbie and Emily have stayed in my mind for days since reading this beautiful novel. I loved every moment of my time with them and was left wanting more. Beautifully written, thought provoking, and clever in so many ways, ‘Together’ is a book that will leave you gripped from start to finish. Just remember to grab that stash of Kleenex and put aside a solid day to get through this wonderful novel because trust me, once you start you won’t be putting this down.
by Julie Cohen
Published by Hachette New Zealand