REVIEW: 500 Miles from You by Jenny Colgan
Lissa, is a nurse in a gritty, hectic London neighborhood. Always terribly competent and good at keeping it all together, she’s been suffering quietly with PTSD after helping to save the victim of a shocking crime. Her supervisor quietly arranges for Lissa to spend a few months doing a much less demanding job in the little town of Kirrinfeif in the Scottish Highlands, hoping that the change of scenery will help her heal. Lissa will be swapping places with Cormack, an Army veteran who’s Kirrinfeif’s easygoing nurse/paramedic/all-purpose medical man. Lissa’s never experienced small-town life, and Cormack’s never spent more than a day in a big city, but it seems like a swap that would do them both some good.
In London, the gentle Cormack is a fish out of the water; in Kirrinfief, the dynamic Lissa finds it hard to adjust to the quiet. But these two strangers are now in constant contact, taking over each other’s patients, endlessly emailing about anything and everything. Lissa and Cormack discover a new depth of feeling…for their profession and for each other.
But what will happen when Lissa and Cormack finally meet…?
CW – heroine suffers from PTSD.
Dear Ms. Colgan,
Firstly, I feel the need to warn people that this is not a cutesy rom-com. The cover might make it seem like it is but it’s really NOT. Potential readers should not go into it expecting that. I decided to try it as I liked the idea of two people being fishes-out-water but with one going to the big city instead of the usual romance setting wherein all the action takes place in Small Townville. Some things I liked while others felt unfinished. Plus in some paragraphs there are strange POV shifts between Lyssa, Cormac and sometimes an omniscient narrator. I could follow these but it was startling at first.
Lyssa and Cormac are good at their jobs and dedicated to the patients they see. Both are settled and at home in their environments until the event that sends Lyssa into a tailspin. This is early in the book and involves a horrific and deliberate crime which she witnesses and then attempts to render aid to the victim. It’s immediately clear that it’s affecting her more than any event despite her time as an A&E (ER in the US) nurse and that she needs a break – time to de-stress away from London while she works with a therapist. A link between what happened in London and one of his patients is what brings Cormac into the picture. Soon they’re swapping jobs and discovering a different way of life.
There is a lot I liked about this book but it’s really more fiction than romance. Sure Lyssa and Cormac communicate but at first it’s just medical notes as they bring the other up to speed on their caseloads. And it’s only much, much later, after they both casually date other people, that they begin to share a little personal information. Even after that, they’re still considering themselves mainly as acquaintances and maybe friends. The sudden jump to a long term relationship seemed to come from nowhere and with only a few pages to go. But I guess since Joan the GP puts her seal of approval on it then it’s real? Um, I wasn’t convinced.
There are little bits about family friction mentioned for both of them but in neither case was this fleshed out. Lyssa’s family disapproved slightly of her career choice while Cormac’s mum seemed to approve of Cormac’s brother more (why? never revealed) plus there was something (what? very cryptic) that happened to Cormac in the army. Then these issues were dropped. The initial descriptions of Lyssa’s PTSD seemed spot on and I ruefully smiled at how the NHS budget cuts affected her mandated therapy sessions. Then later I realized that three of the six sessions were never shown (did they happen? hard to tell). Her PTSD issues got put aside for long periods and there was one scene in Scotland that I thought should have been triggering to her but strangely it wasn’t. Plus, what happened to the cat? Don’t do that sort of scene and then not give us follow-up on how the cat is. As this is the third book in a series, I expected to see some past characters in Scotland – and did – but their inclusion never felt more than a clunky mandatory catch-up session.
What did work well for me were the scenes of Lyssa and Cormac getting their feet wet in their new digs and jobs. At first, neither is all that impressed. Big city Lyssa avoids eye contact with small town people who know everyone and are slightly affronted with her “snobbish” (they feel) attitudes. There are a few instances of her messing things up (getting stuck in the mud or not knowing how to light a fire) but mercifully this is kept to a minimum. Likewise Cormac is baffled by Londoners who won’t look him in the eye or even say hello not to mention the horrendous traffic, smog haze, and heat. But none of these things are played too broadly and feel like real life experiences anyone might have had happen to them.
One of the nicest things, though, is how both come to find aspects of their new lives that they enjoy. Lyssa falls for the peace, fresh air, and friendliness of Scotland while Cormac finds things in London – restaurants, art galleries, and the freedom to be anonymous in a crowd that he likes. But then the last part of the book rushes things to a conclusion. That plus the aspects that weren’t finished negated what I did like and left me with a C grade overall.