4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

The decorator was going to be there in a few days and she had to clear and tidy the study. The tiny box room had just enough room for a desk, a bookcase and an armchair, but it was the room where things that never had a proper home ended up. The plan is to decorate, change the carpet and after making an effort to keep it tidy and usable. As she is removing the books from the top shelf her hand touches something at the back that is nestling among the dust. It has the texture of dried leather and the seeds within rattle as she picks it up.

It is a mahogany pod and the memories of Arif, who gave it to her just before he died of cancer, crash back into her mind like a tsunami.

She has found it a few days before the anniversary of his death and decides to pay his grave a visit. Soon after she is settling into a train seat as it leaves Paddington, off to Oxford. It has been twenty-three years since she saw him. Her grief overwhelming means that she only remembers fragments from the day of the funeral and standing here again opens that raw emotion once again. Her fingers are going numb in the cold and she knows that she has spent enough time there today. It is time to head home. Sitting at the dinner table later, she has no words for her feelings.

The following morning find finds the shoebox of letters and photos tucked away in the loft. The dust makes her cough, but on lifting the lid, there is a hint of the aftershave that he used from the bottle in there and she begins to sift through the letters from their shared past. It takes her back to the time that she lived on the island of Osney, a place a stone’s throw from the centre of Oxford and a watery place of tranquillity. It bought back memories of the happy times spent in the house there. She was renting a house and had some rooms spare for others to rent and this was when she first met Arif.

She still had a boyfriend at that point, but the relationship was starting to founder. Kevin, Kate, Arif and herself all got on really well as housemates, sharing chores, going to the Watermans Arms and cooking for each other. After she splits with her current boyfriend, they realise that not only do they have lots of common interests but they also have feelings for each other. As the relationship intensifies, there is bad news, the cancer that he thought was cured of, is back.

This is a heart-wrenching account of her relationship with Arif and its tragic ending. But there is much more to it than this, it is also her story of finding answers to questions that at the age of twenty-three, she didn’t know she needed answers too at the time. It is a very personal journey that will take her to plant hunting at Kew Gardens and back to Oxford to make peace with the grief of her past. Most of all this is Jill’s fitting eulogy to Arif’s brief but intensely full life.

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