Family relationships are tricky. We all know it. Even within the happiest and most seemingly perfect families, there are underlying tensions, stories from the past, remarks that still make us wince for years. However, Diane Chandler takes the structure and complexity of a family to a new level in Only Human. As the title suggests, in the end of the day we are only human, and mistakes happen.
Only Human focuses on the family of Anna Bond. Told from first perspective, we become intimately acquainted with Anna and her experience as a middle-aged woman, wife, and mother. In the very first pages, Anna finds out that her husband, Ollie, is cheating on her, and the main story revolves around his infidelity and Anna’s response to it. Anna, as most people would be, is torn between breaking her family apart because of Ollie’s cheating or swallowing this bitter pill in order to keep her life as she knows it. Ollie’s affair is followed by Anna having one of her own. As a woman and a human being, Anna’s confusion, rage and despair at Ollie’s betrayal is understandable. Relationships, and marriages, are built on years of trust, shared memories, and mutual dreams. However, these were the bits that felt the flattest in the story to me. The discussions between husband and wife and the effort to save the marriage provided interesting insight as to how different people react to such situations. However, Anna’s affair was simply underwhelming. Her decision to have one is fair enough, but the descriptions of her relationship with Gabryel were not as interesting as everything else happening in the novel.
Alongside the ongoing affairs, Anna also offers us an insight into being a mother to a teenager daughter, Sophie, who is getting ready to leave the safety of her parents’ nest. Anna’s anguish at being left alone after years of carrying for her daughter felt so natural to read, and I think almost every parent will see themselves on the page. The need to let go battles against the want to make Sophie stay, and Anna’s rethinking of her life shows how important it can be to focus on yourself from time to time rather than to give all of your undivided attention to your child; in the end of the day, you need to look after yourself in order to look after your loved ones, too. Anna’s relationship with Sophie is a turbulent one that has a lot of ups and downs. Sophie’s first boyfriend, Jack, also plays a pivotal role in the mother-daughter relationship. Diane Chandler’s writing on family life felt real and objective – it showed the great moments alongside the bad ones exactly the way they happen in real life.
Only Human also shows us Anna outside of her family. It is through Fred – Anna keeps him company on a voluntary basis – that we see Anna as a human being and not just a wife and mother. We get to see her aspirations, her need for professional fulfilment, her losses, and her regrets. Fred is a great character; he is witty and sharp. His story initially provides much needed comic relief, but the longer we read the more we learn about him, and by the end of the book you will be as invested in Fred as Anna herself is.
As a whole, Only Human by Diane Chandler was a truly pleasant read. The novel felt real, and it was a page turner. I was immersed in the characters and their actions, because it was easy to identify with them – they have the same problems, dilemmas and dreams as us in the real world. I would recommend it to everyone who would like a great story that is close to home.
Only Human is available now, published by Blackbird Books