4:57 PM EST. A few minutes ago, I finished reading this novel, my eyes brimming with tears. I am now basking in an afterglow of quasi-orgasmic satisfaction, for this was a story that spoke to my heart and mind, captivating me throughout its 433 pages.
The story begins in Florence (Italy) in August 1997. Two young ladies from the UK - friends from childhood - are nearing the end of a summer holiday before each will embark on different paths. Tess, who had recently received her A-levels, has secured a place at University College in London. Her close friend, "Doll" (her full name is Maria Dolores O'Neill), is set to be a beautician. "Doll" is the lively, engaging, vivacious, ballsy sort of friend who is a nice complement to Tess who is deeply sensitive, quietly resilient, a bit naive about some of the ways of the world, with an abiding passion for art and literature.
Then there is 'Gus' (short for Angus) who is also in Florence at the same time. He is with his parents. Together they are the picture of the staid, self-contained English family. Gus is the dutiful son. But inwardly, he is uneasy and anxious given that he will soon be going to London to study medicine, to become more independent and learn who he really is. While exploring the city on his own, Gus has a chance meeting with Tess. It was a fleeting, awkward encounter for both of them - as such meetings between 2 people can be, especially if there is a sudden, mutual attraction.
Sometime later, Tess and Gus meet a third time near the Ponte Vecchio. Gus was standing in line for ice cream when "... I'd felt a tap on my shoulder, and there she was again, smiling as if we'd known each other all our lives and were about to go on some amazing adventure together." Tess then informs him about "this brilliant gelato place just down Via dei Neri where you can get about six for the price of one here!" In response, Gus tells Tess that "I don't think I could manage six!" Ruefully, he then confesses to the reader that "[m]y attempt at wit had come out sounding pompous and dismissive. I wasn't very good at talking to girls." I could totally relate to Gus when you find yourself unexpectedly in the presence of a person who is singularly attractive to you. But you're at a loss for words in a vain attempt to both impress and ingratiate yourself with that person. Opportunity lost. In Gus' case, he "stared at [Tess] like a moron with sentences jostling for position in my head as her smile faded from sparkling to slightly perplexed before she hurried off to catch up with her friend."
Each succeeding chapter follows the paths made by both Gus and Tess over the next 16 years. Gus tells his developing story in one chapter in a given year that is followed by Tess sharing with the reader the ups and downs in which she found herself in that same year. Most of Gus' life is clouded over by the tragic death of his older brother, who is clearly the apple of his parents' eyes. Tess returns home and is soon engulfed by a family tragedy that will seismically alter the trajectory of her life. And yet, through the passing of years, the reader is witness to how chance or Fate may bring together or keep apart 2 people perhaps destined for each other. Example: Gus attends in July 2013 a Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park (London), where "[a]bout six people in front of me, I noticed a tall woman tracking the ephemeral silvery-white image as it floated over her head, her expression as innocently delighted as a child gazing up at a circus trapeze artist, her lips syncing with the words of the song. Almost as if she had sensed me watching her, our eyes met, her mouth stopped moving and time stood still. Then the butterfly flew away and her face merged back into the darkness."
The ecstacy and the agony. Both Gus and Tess became real people to me the more I read this novel. And as I said earlier, once I read the last sentence, I wanted to cry. But felt embarrassed to do so, though I was alone in my apartment. (I wonder if the author of "MISSING YOU" has received any offers to auction off the rights for a movie adaptation. If so, this novel could be made into a really good movie - provided the mistakes are avoided that bedeviled the movie adaptation of David Nicholls' novel, "One Day".)
Suffice it to say, "MISSING YOU" is a winner.