Thursday 3 April 2014


Book review: Arms Wide Open by Tom Winter

My edition: Paperback, to be published on 17 April 2014 by Corsair, 352 pages.

Description: Jack and Meredith are non-identical twins. Their father died before they were born and now they both have to watch as their mother sinks further in to the grip of early-onset dementia.

Jack's career has crashed and burned, all that remains is a Maserati and a nervous disposition. Meredith's world is also crumbling the decomposing yogurt in her fridge a symbol of her newly-expired marriage. Her children, Jemima and Luke, offer little support, too consumed with the world of online dating and amateur taxidermy.

One day, a throwaway comment starts Jack wondering if their father really died. As they begin to untangle the revelations, the twins are forced to ponder both the past and the future: their memories of their mother, their hopes for finding their father, and the fear of what's in their bloodline.


In January of last year I read Tom Winter's memorable debut novel Lost and Found, a poignant story of ordinary people whose stories become extraordinary through Winter's excellent writing (find my review here) and I was excited when I heard he had a new novel coming out this year, let alone the opportunity to read it early. Once again Winter takes seemingly average people and with a flair for great storytelling he pulls the reader in and gets them invested into these people's lives.

Arms Wide Open is the story of one family and their many ups and downs as they go about their everyday lives. Meredith has two children, Jemima and Luke, and a twin-brother by the name of Jack. She always felt that her brother got the better end of the deal, having a great job and plenty of money with which he's always jetting off, whereas she's achieved little with her marriage falling apart a year before being the absolute low point - one from which she's still trying to recover.

But when the twins find out that the father they never knew and assumed to be dead may be alive after all they go on the search for answers, which not only provides Meredith with some much-needed distraction, but also shows her that Jack's life isn't as charmed as she thought it was. He can be wonderful with her children, but his glamorous job has disappeared between all the sabbaticals and his forgetful mind looks to be a more serious condition than him just being a scatter-brain.

While reading the novel I felt particularly invested in the journey of Jemima. Neglected by a mother who is too busy grieving for the loss of her marriage to notice what is going on with her children, Jemima has little interaction with teenagers her own age. Instead she escapes into a virtual world of dating men far too old for her, which could have extremely serious consequences. Having a younger sister roughly the same age as Jemima I was horrified when reading her part of the story, but it also served as a wake-up call to the dangers that lay just around the corner for teenagers in today's digital society.

Despite the many tragedies the characters are faced with, Tom Winter has packed his second novel full with surprising wit and hope too. Depressing on one page yet humorous on the next, he has created a story which goes from the mundane to the downright bizarre (such as an explosion at the next door neighbour's which implicates a character who in a strange twist of faith was sort of romantically involved with both Meredith and Jemima, without any of them realising this) in quick succession. He balances these opposites in a very effective way, creating an engrossing and unique kind one novel.

It's a thoughtful read as well - tackling subjects from dementia and complicated family dynamics to rebelling teens and death - which will have the reader think about it long after turning the final page. This also makes it an ideal book club choice as the wealth of issues raised make for plenty of interesting and, no doubt, heated discussions.

You can pre-order a copy of the novel from Waterstones,, or your own preferred retailer.

Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with him online at:

Twitter: @wintrybits

Many thanks to Lovereading for an advance copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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