Magnets push and magnets pull. Will White and Rosie Winters, schoolmates who barely know each other, are unexpectedly swept up one night and talk for hours at a bonfire. Focused Rosie is full of future plans and listens to her mother’s voice in her head; her goals are getting good grades and practicing her music and leaving Norfolk for university at Oxford. Will, branded the bad seed of their school, drives a motorbike and worries his grandma but helps Rosie’s twin brother, Josh, with math.
Then one night, another party, alcohol, a cliff edge—the unthinkable happens to these teenagers, simultaneously tearing them apart and bonding them forever in shared grief. “The worst thing, the most not-okay thing in both of their lives, occurred, because the world is cruel and unpredictable and things just happen, sometimes, and their understanding of this is what brings them back together, over and over, in spite of it.”
No opposites-attract love story is without conflict and tension, and Talking at Night certainly has the lion’s share of youthful desire as well as hidden pain. Debut novelist Claire Daverley’s descriptive powers make even the ordinary seem significant, as things often do when life is emotionally charged.
Half-truths and concealed feelings throttle Will and Rosie’s relationship from the start. Over the years, they fight, grow apart, show up for each other and almost decide to go for it many times, occasionally talking or texting at night when they can’t sleep. Their lives diverge and intersect throughout their 20s and 30s, and Daverley teases out their attraction to its climax, capturing all the perplexing contradictions of people in love. The lack of quotation marks is a perennially controversial structural choice for dialogue, likely as it is to cause confusion, but it lends a sense of urgency to the plot that suits and reflects the nature of Will’s and Rosie’s tumultuous thoughts.
As much as Talking at Night is a love story between two people, it is also a meditation on family and the vagaries of grief when bonds are broken. Daverley’s sensitive novel evokes a line from the Edmund Spenser poem “The Ways of God Unsearchable”: “For there is nothing lost, that may be found if sought.” Through all their losses and misfires, Will and Rosie keep looking, and readers will keep turning pages, hoping that these two characters will find each other at last.