In The Mood For Love:
Bernard Slade’s 1975 play Same Time Next Year (also filmed in 1978) must be one of the most popular two-handers of all time. The sweet romcom was about a man and woman, both married to other people, who decide to meet at the same resort at the same time each year. The world changes around them, their kids grow up, their marriages go on, perhaps strengthened by this selective infidelity.
Elin Hilderbrand has been inspired by the play and paid tribute to the Canadian writer, who died in October last year, in her new bestselling novel, 28 Summers. Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud live apart and meet once a year, like in the play and movie, and create their own rituals for their secret annual tryst.
The book is set in the beautiful beach town of Nantucket where Hilderbrand lives and often portrays in her books. Mallory is a city girl, who inherits a Nantucket beach cottage from her aunt, who was gay and shunned by the family. Jake is her brother Cooper’s college best friend, whom she first meets in 1993, when she hosts Cooper’s bachelor party over Labor Day weekend. Things go wrong then, partly due to Mallory’s selfish bestie Leland, the weekend is ruined, but she and Jake fall in love. Unfortunately, he is committed to a woman called Ursula DeGournsey, who does not love him as much as her career, but keeps him on a leash nonetheless.
In a burst of broken-hearted emotion, they promise to spend every Labour Day weekend together, no matter what. Their lives go through major upheavals, but they manage to keep their yearly date for 28 years, miraculously avoiding detection; Hilderbrand starts each chapter with the social and cultural highlights of each year, and that is an interesting nostalgic trip for the reader.
Both Mallory and Jake have children, he a daughter with Ursula and she, a son after a drunken one-night fling with Cooper’s buddy Fray, who supports the boy, but marries his steady girlfriend. Mallory does not stay alone in her cottage, pining for Jake for a year—she leads a full life, a satisfying career as a teacher, and has affairs, but remains resolutely single. Her brother Cooper’s serial weddings and divorces are played for comic relief, and also to give Jake and Mallory a chance to meet without the usual subterfuge.
When the book reaches 2020, with Mallory and Jake’s passionate and tender love getting stronger, Ursula is a senator running for president. She is needlessly depicted as a cold woman, who treats Jake like a prop a successful politician needs by her side. Why Jake puts up with such a loveless marriage is not clear, but he does not have the strength to leave, and after a point it is too late.
Like the original play, there is an element of wish-fulfillment in the story. There is a suggestion that such a relationship could actually strengthen marriages—even the best of them lose their romantic sheen over time. The self-absorbed Ursula actually notices that Jake is happier when he returns from what she believes is boys’ weekend, a fiction that Cooper reluctantly confirms when the wife gets suspicious.
There is beauty, romance and humour in the book but also descriptions of lovely landscapes and delicious food. The kind of novel to pick up when the mood –or the weather– is gloomy.
By Elin Hilderbrand
Publisher: Little, Brown