Diana O’Toole’s life is going perfectly to plan. At twenty-nine, she’s up for promotion to her dream job as an art specialist at Sotheby’s and she’s about to fly to the Galápagos where she’s convinced her surgeon boyfriend, Finn, is going to propose.
But then the virus hits New York City and Finn breaks the news: the hospital needs him, he has to stay. But you should still go, he insists. And reluctantly, she agrees.
Once she’s in the Galápagos, the world shuts down around her, leaving Diana stranded – albeit in paradise. Completely isolated, with only intermittent news from the outside world, Diana finds herself examining everything that has brought her to this point and wondering if there’s a better way to live. But not everything is as it seems…
I picked up my first Jodi Picoult novel – The Book of Two Ways – last year as an eARC from the publisher, despite early reviews calling it complicated with an overdose of science and history. Having enjoyed the way the story progressed I knew I wanted to read her next which, as it turned out, was set right in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the last two years I’ve managed to avoid reading fiction set in the Covid era, barring one in which the Corona virus makes an appearance in the epilogue. I made an exception for Jodi Picoult because if I was going to read a story set in the pandemic, it had to be written by someone I was positive would treat it right.
The world begins to shut down the moment Diana sets foot on the island. With the last ferry gone, the hotel closed, no cell signal, and unable to communicate in the local language, she finds herself utterly alone until a local woman offers her a place to stay.
Deciding to make the most of it, Diana begins to explore the island. She meets Gabriel and his daughter Beatriz, locals, who show her around. Soon two weeks turn into two months and Diana imagines the possibility of settling down in this idyllic place.
“Life happens when you least expect it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a blueprint in your back pocket.”
For a while there isn’t much happening other than discovering the little joys of being in paradise. Picoult makes Isabela Island come alive with her vivid descriptions of the island’s natural beauty, the people, their culture and history. Considering I continue to be firmly ensconced at home post our horrible experience with Covid-19 six months ago, it was thrilling to imagine myself walking the sandy beaches, befriending sea lions, watching flamingos, and exploring hidden coves on a quiet, tourist-free vacation.
Meanwhile, back in New York Finn is struggling with unending shifts, seeing nothing but death around him. Diana and Finn have barely had any contact except for sporadic one-sided emails and postcards that seem to have lost their way.
Their separation and anxiety paints the ugly truth of the havoc Covid has played on families and loved ones. The pain of being far away, unable to see each other or talk adds to their loneliness. Finn’s life in the hospital encapsulates the spirit and tenacity with which frontline medical workers continue to fight against this horrible virus.
Even as you lose yourself in Diana’s new life on a sparsely inhabited island, you wonder where the story is heading. Knowing Picoult, you expect the ball to drop at some point. And here is why I made the right choice to pick up this book.
The story breaks off into part two with a twist so unexpected my jaw dropped right down to the floor. The frightening turn this story takes knocks the air out of your lungs. I fear even the tiniest detail I reveal in this review may be a spoiler and that is not a risk I am willing to take so I’m afraid I can’t say more.
Anyone infected with Covid-19 will attest to the fact that this virus messes with your brain in ways you cannot imagine. Reading this may bring you to relive some of the hardest moments of your life in the past two years.
Yet, I find that Picoult has taken a thread from the most dreadful time our world is living through and spun a story that is completely believable and yet so incredibly surprising. The pain is visceral but she shows there is always hope and in the end that is all that matters.
Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult. Published on 25th November 2021 by Hodder & Stoughton, a Hachette UK company. This ARC courtesy of NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton.
Book 55 of 2021.
Aquamarine Flavours Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟.
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