Book Review – Come Again by Robert Webb

books, reviews

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Do you ever bother with signed editions? I’m not talking about being lucky enough to meet an author in person and getting them to sign it. I’m talking about those books that are already signed and, most likely, cost a little bit more than the usual hardback. I try not to care and will normally only bother with signed books by authors I really love. Of course, there may be an occasion when the signed edition is cheaper on Waterstones than the unsigned. In that case, I’ll definitely go for it but, really, I don’t see the point. If it’s not personalised, it’s just a bit meaningless, right? It’s not as I expect them to become investment pieces that I’ll hand down to my children. Nor am I showing them off to everyone I know. The signature is just a thing that exists and makes very little difference to my life. Why am I banging on about this? I pre-ordered the hardback signed copy of Come Again but it has sat on my shelf since April 2020. I do this all the time and I don’t know why I never learn. I am so desperate to get certain signed editions but then let them languish on my shelf. I definitely have a problem.

I read and really enjoyed Robert Webb’s memoir How Not To Be A Boy. It was a funny, emotional and insightful book about his life. It dealt with big issues surrounding gender and wasn’t afraid to get personal. He had a way of writing that just drew you into his world. His use of words made even the more complex or emotional aspects of his life easier to digest. I couldn’t wait to see what his first attempt at fiction would be like. I was expecting it to be funny, original and charming. I have to admit that it sounded a little too much like a twee romantic comedy for my liking but I was willing to give it a chance. I never really believed that one half of Mitchell and Webb would ever go down the cliched route.

Going by the synopsis alone, you’d think that Come Again was a fairly simple time travel narrative. It’s been about a year since Kate’s husband, Luke, died. It turned out that in the 10,000 days that they knew each other, Luke had a tumour slowly growing in his head. Nobody knew it was there until it was to late. Without her love, Kate’s not doing a great job of keeping it together and is ready to give up on life altogether. Until she wakes up in her 18-year-old body on the morning that she first met Luke. With the chance to relive those moments, Kate sees her chance to save the man she loves. But a lot has changed in the previous decades. Kate is a different person and so was Luke. How will she cope when she comes face-to-face with the teenager he used to be? Though her body is that of an student, her mind belongs to a woman in her 40s. A woman who can see through all of Luke’s flirtations and pretentions. When she has the chance to experience her relationship again, will she even want to?

You can see why I maybe had my reservations about this book. It sounded like something in the tradition of The Time Traveller’s Wife. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it’s not my thing. So, I was happy to discover that there was a bit more to the book than the main romantic plot. My happiness ended up being short-lived when it became apparent that there was maybe a bit too much more to the book. There are a lot of plot threads going on here and it all becomes a bit chaotic. There is a bit of an issue with the pacing and the tone as Webb tries to tie everything together. There’s a lot of good stuff here but it doesn’t necessarily gel successfully. Rather than being a romantic-comedy, Come Again mixes the romance with action, spy thrillers, and an exploration of mental health issues. It’s all a bit much.

The book is split into 3 sections. The first introduces us to Kate and her life. We explore her grief and become associated with her problems at work. She is the IT Manager at a pretty dodgy company. Dealing with Online Reputational Management, Kate’s employers are paid to make bad press disappear. They are paid by wealthy men to cover up their dodgy dealings and silence their victims. Kate has gone along with it for years but, since losing Luke, she has had enough. After finding out something that she just can’t ignore, Kate decides something must be done. Unfortunately, that’s when she wakes up back in the 90s. The second section follows Kate as she tries to relive her past and save her husband’s life. There are some lovely moments here and the story didn’t go the way I thought it would. It ended up being rather more refreshing than I’d expected.

Then there’s the final section. This is where all the major stuff comes down and all of the plot threads have to be tied together. It is the least successful section and I got the impression that Webb was maybe just trying too hard. It just goes wild and the plot jumps into high gear. After the slower pace of the previous section, this feels like it’s been pasted in from a different novel. There was just far too much action and, if I’m honest, it didn’t work on the page. The descriptions didn’t have the desired effect and I really think it would be better suited for a visual medium. There’s a lot of convenient stuff here too. It’s a bit too convoluted and unbelievable. And, yes, I am saying that about a novel that sees the main character travel through time. Although, I will say that I liked the ending. I think it deserved a bit more attention but it was a great way to end the book.

Overall, I think I was disappointed by Webb’s first novel. He still showed that he’s a great writer and I would definitely read more of his books. I just think he went a bit overboard. It tries to achieve so much but there it lacks the control to keep it going. Rather than one novel split into 3 parts, this felt like parts of 3 different novels stuck together. It was maybe a bit of a bodge job but there was still plenty to enjoy. There are definitely worse ways to spend your time and there is enough charm here to keep you happy. When Come Again works, it really works. The only problem is that the less successful parts stick out more.

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