For fans of Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You comes a beautifully written, heartwarming novel about mothers and daughters, husbands and wives. The Day We Met asks: Can you love someone you don’t remember falling in love with?
A gorgeous husband, two beautiful children, a job she loves—Claire’s got it all. And then some. But lately, her mother hovers more than a helicopter, her husband, Greg, seems like a stranger, and her kids are like characters in a movie. Three-year-old Esther’s growing up in the blink of an eye, and twenty-year-old Caitlin, with her jet-black hair and clothes to match, looks like she’s about to join a punk band—and seems to be hiding something. Most concerning, however, is the fact that Claire is losing her memory, including that of the day she met Greg.
A chance meeting with a handsome stranger one rainy day sets Claire wondering whether she and Greg still belong together: She knows she should love him, but she can’t always remember why. In search of an answer, Claire fills the pages of a blank book Greg gives her with private memories and keepsakes, jotting down beginnings and endings and everything in between. The book becomes the story of Claire—her passions, her sorrows, her joys, her adventures in a life that refuses to surrender to a fate worse than dying: disappearing.
Praise for The Day We Met
“[Rowan] Coleman executes another incredibly powerful novel that is beautifully written. The story is so well-crafted, it’s impossible to put the book down. The tale is so poignant and heartbreaking that readers will be completely engrossed with the characters while experiencing a wide array of emotions.”—RT Book Reviews
“[The Day We Met] is, at heart, a book about mothers, daughters and the strong bonds that exist between women even during heartbreak. Coleman will make you cry with this emotional, beautifully written novel.”—Kirkus Reviews
“As with Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes, I couldn’t put this book down.”—Katie Fforde
“Rowan Coleman’s heartbreaking, humorous novel about a family in crisis vividly reminded me about the fierce, resilient core in all kinds of love. Readers of Lisa Genova’s Still Alice and Elin Hilderbrand’s Beautiful Day will especially savor this book.”—Nancy Thayer
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|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I’ve just got to get away from my mother: she is driving me mad, which would be funny if I wasn’t already that way inclined. No, I’m not mad, that’s not right. Although I feel pretty angry.
It was the look on her face when we came out of the hospital appointment; the look she had all the way home. Stoical, stalwart, strong but bleak. She didn’t say the words, but I could hear them buzzing around in her head: “This is so typically Claire. To ruin everything just when it’s getting good.”
“I’ll move in,” she says, even though she blatantly already has, silently secreting herself in the spare bedroom, like I wouldn’t notice her, arranging her personal items on the shelf in the bathroom. I knew she would come when she found out. I knew she would and I wanted her to, I suppose; but I wanted to ask her, or for her to ask me. Instead she simply arrived, all hushed tones and sorrowful glances. “I’ll move into the spare room.”
“No, you won’t.” I turn to look at her as she drives. She is a very careful driver, slow and exacting. I am not allowed to drive anymore, not since I killed that postbox, which carried a far more expensive fine than you would perhaps imagine, because it belongs to Her Majesty. It must be the same if you run over a corgi: if you run over a corgi, you probably get sent to the Tower. My mother is such a careful driver, and yet she never looks in the rearview mirror when she’s reversing. It’s like she feels that, in this one aspect, it’s safer simply to close her eyes and hope for the best. I used to love driving; I loved the freedom and the independence and knowing that, if I felt like it, I could go anywhere I fancied. I don’t like that my car keys have disappeared, gone without me being allowed even to kiss them goodbye, hidden away in a place where I will never find them. I know because I’ve tried. I could still drive, I think. As long as no one put anything in my way.
“It’s not come to you moving in yet,” I insist, although we both know she has already moved in. “There’s still lots of time left when I won’t need any help at all. I mean, listen to me. I can still talk and think about . . .” I wave my arm, causing her to duck and look under my hand, which I tuck apologetically back in my lap. “Things.”
“Claire, this isn’t something you can stick your head in the sand about. Trust me, I know.”
Of course she knows: she’s lived through this before, and now, thanks to me, or strictly speaking thanks to my father and his rogue DNA, she has to live through it again. And it’s not as if I’ll do anything sensible like dying nice and neatly with all my faculties intact, holding her hand and thanking her, with a serene look on my face as I impart words of wisdom to live by to my children. No, my annoyingly quite young, reasonably fit body will linger on long after I’ve checked out of my mushy little brain, right up until the moment when I forget how to breathe in and out and in again. I know that’s what she is thinking. I know the last thing in the world she wants is to watch her daughter fade away and shrivel up, just like her husband did. I know it’s breaking her heart and that she’s doing her best to be brave, and stand by me, and yet . . . It makes me so angry. Her goodness makes me angry. All my life I’ve been trying to prove that I can grow up enough to not need her to rescue me all the time. All my life I’ve been wrong.
“Actually, Mum, I am the one who can stick my head in the sand,” I say, staring out of the window. “I am the one who can completely ignore what is happening to me, because most of the time I won’t even notice.”
It’s funny: I say the words out loud, and feel the fear, there in the pit of my stomach, but it’s like it isn’t part of me. It really is like it’s happening to someone else, this terror.
“You don’t mean that, Claire,” Mum says crossly, as if she really thinks that I mean I don’t care, and not that I’m just saying it to annoy her. “What about your daughters?”
I say nothing because my mouth is suddenly thick with words that won’t form properly or mean anything like what I need them to mean. So I stay quiet, looking out of the window, at the houses slipping past, one by one. It’s almost dark already; living room lamps are switched on, TVs flicker behind curtains. Of course I care. Of course I’ll miss it, this life. Steam-filled kitchens on winter evenings, cooking for my daughters, watching them grow: these are the things I will never experience. I’ll never know whether Esther will always eat her peas one by one, or if she will always be blond. If Caitlin will travel across Central America, like she plans to, or whether she’ll do something completely different that she hasn’t even dreamed of yet. I won’t ever know what that undreamed wish will be. They’ll never lie to me about where they are going, or come to me with their problems. These are the things I’ll miss, because I’ll be somewhere else and I won’t even know what I’m missing. Of course I bloody care.
“I suppose they’ll have Greg.” My mum sounds skeptical as she ploughs on, determined to discuss what the world will be like after I’m no longer in it, even though it shows a quite spectacular lack of tact. “That’s if he can hold it together.”
“He will,” I say. “He will. He’s a brilliant father.”
I am not sure if that is true, though. I’m not sure if he can take what is happening, and I don’t know how to help him. He is such a good man, and a kind one. But lately, ever since the diagnosis, he is becoming a stranger to me day by day. Every time I look at him he is standing further away. It’s not his fault. I can tell he wants to be there, to be stalwart and strong for me, but I think perhaps the enormity of it all, of all this happening when really we’ve only just started out on our life together, is chipping away at him. Soon I won’t recognize him at all; I know I already find it hard to recognize the way I feel about him. I know he is the last great love of my life, but I don’t feel it anymore. Somehow Greg is the first thing I am losing. I remember it, our love affair, but it’s as though I’ve dreamed it, like Alice through the looking glass.
“You, of all people.” Mum cannot help lecturing me, telling me off for being in possession of the family’s dark secret, like I brought it on myself by being so damned naughty. “You, who knew what it was like to grow up without a father. We need to make plans for them, Claire. Your girls are losing their mother and you need to make sure they will be okay when you aren’t capable of looking after them anymore!”
She brakes suddenly at a zebra crossing, causing a chorus of horns to sound behind her, as a little girl who looks far too young to be out on her own hurries across the road, huddled against the rain. In the glare of Mum’s headlights I can see she’s carrying a thin blue plastic bag with what looks like four pints of milk inside, bumping against her skinny legs. I hear the break in Mum’s voice, hovering just below the frustration and anger. I hear the hurt.
“I do know that,” I say, suddenly exhausted. “I do know that I have to make plans, but I was waiting, I was hoping. Hoping I might get to enjoy being married to Greg and grow old with him, hoping that the drugs might slow things down for me. Now I know that . . . well, now that I know there is no hope, I’ll get a lot more organized, I promise. Make a wall chart, keep a rota.”
“You can’t hide from this, Claire.” She insists on repeating herself.
“Don’t you think I know that?” I shout. Why does she always do that? Why does she always push me until I shout at her, as if she isn’t satisfied I’m really listening until she has made me lose my temper? It’s always been that way between us: love and anger mixed up in almost every moment we have together. “Do you think I don’t know what I have done, giving them this shitty life?”
Mum pulls into the drive in front of a house—my house, I realize a second too late—and I feel the tears coming against my will. Slamming out of the car, I don’t go into the house, but instead walk into the rain, dragging the edges of my cardigan around me, heading defiantly up the street.
“Claire!” Mum shouts after me. “You can’t do this anymore!”
“Watch me,” I say, but not to her, just into the rain, feeling the tiny droplets on my lips and tongue.
“Claire, please!” I just about hear her, but I keep walking. I’ll show her; I’ll show them all, especially the people that won’t let me drive. I can still walk; I can still bloody walk! I haven’t forgotten how to do that yet. I’ll just go to the end of the road, where the other one crosses over it, and then turn back. I’ll be like Hansel following a trail of breadcrumbs. I won’t go far. I just need to do this one thing. Go to the end of the road, turn around and come back. Although it is getting darker now, and the houses round here all look the same: neat, squat 1930s semis. And the end of the road isn’t as near as I thought it was.
I stop for a moment, feeling the rain driving into my head, tiny cold needles of icy water. I turn around. My mum isn’t behind me: she hasn’t followed me. I thought she might, but she hasn’t. The street is empty. Did I reach the end of the road and turn around already? I am not sure. Which direction was I walking in? Am I going to or from, and to where? The houses on either side of the road look exactly the same. I stand very still. I left my home less than two minutes ago, and now I am not sure where it is. A car drives past me, spraying freezing water onto my legs. I didn’t bring my phone, and anyway I can’t always remember how to use it anymore. I’ve lost numbers. Although I look at them and know they are numbers, I’ve forgotten which ones are which, and which order they come in. But I can still walk, so I begin to walk in the direction that the car that soaked me was going. Perhaps it’s a sign. I will know my house when I see it because the curtains are bright-red silk and the light shining through them makes them glow. Remember that: I have red glowing curtains at the front of my house that one of my neighbors said made me look “loose.” I will remember the red glowing curtains. I’ll be home really soon. Everything will be fine.
The appointment at the hospital hadn’t exactly gone well. Greg had wanted to come but I told him to go and finish the conservatory he was building. I told him that nothing the doctor said would make our mortgage need to be paid any the less, or mean that we don’t have to keep feeding the children. It hurt him that I hadn’t wanted him there, but he didn’t realize that I couldn’t cope with trying to guess what the look on his face meant at the same time as guessing what I felt myself. I knew if I took Mum she would just say everything in her head, which is better. It’s better than hearing really terrible news and wondering if your husband is sorry that he ever set eyes on you, that of all the people in the world he could have chosen, he chose you. So I wasn’t in the best frame of mind—pun intended—when the doctor sat me down to go through the next round of test results. The tests they had given me because everything was happening much faster than they’d thought it would.
I can’t remember the doctor’s name because it’s very long with a great many syllables, which I think is funny. I mentioned this as Mum and I sat there waiting for him to finish looking at the notes on his screen and deliver the bad news, but no one else was amused. There’s a time and a place for gallows humor, it seems.
Reading Group Guide
A Note From the Author
About three years ago I was sitting at my desk in my office, looking out the window, thinking about a dream I’d had years ago. It’s a very long story, but I first met my now husband, Adam, when we were both twelve, starting a new school at the same time. I fell in love with him at first sight, I actually did, just like they talk about in movies and books.
Years went by, years of nothing much happening between us (well, we were only twelve) and then around the age of sixteen there was a romance, and there continued to be on and off again for the next twenty-five years. But we never did quite get it together; something, maybe fate, would always conspire to keep us apart. Around fourteen years ago, after a really long time without seeing or hearing from Adam, and believing that that door was finally shut for good, I woke up from a dream so strong and so powerful that I had to check that it wasn’t real. I’d dreamed that I’d married him. I dreamed that a few years earlier, when we had been together, we’d run away and gotten married. And then things fell apart again. My head knew that that had never happened, we had never gotten married, but my heart believed it. My heart remembered how I felt about him, and how I always have felt about him, and it wouldn’t let that feeling go.
Another ten years would go by between that dream and finding him, quite by chance, again. This time we would not be parted, and four years ago we were married at last.
So as I sat in my office and thought about that dream, I thought about how even when life changes everything, everything around you, some things are so indelibly printed on your soul that they never go away. Love will always remain, whether you want it to or not. And that thought, that memory, was the very first inkling of the idea that would become The Day We Met.
There was another incident too: a few years earlier I almost lost my mother. My mum is an amazing woman; she was married in the fifties and was raised to be a wife and mother. For twenty-eight years that was what she did—until my dad left us. Mum had no choice but to change completely, change everything she knew. Battling grief and loss, she went out and got a job, supported my brother and me, and guided us single-handedly into adulthood. My mum brought me up to be strong and independent, to always try my best, to never give up, to believe that my gender would never prevent me from doing anything I chose to do. She encouraged me to take the chances that she never had, and she taught me how to be a mother. So when over a period of years she became increasingly ill, forgetful, and uncoordinated, with a severity that increased in slight but devastating increments, my brother and I feared the worst. She was diagnosed with high blood pressure, with having most likely suffered transient ischemic attacks (sometimes described as mini-strokes), but that never really felt right to me. I saw her change; I saw her personality descend into depression. There would be attacks when she didn’t know us, when she forgot that a friend had died and would insist on ringing his wife at three in the morning to prove that I was an “evil liar.” It was hard, and although she wasn’t even seventy, I believed that the relentlessly cruel disease of dementia was taking a grip on her and taking her away from me. Then one Christmas she became so ill that she was rushed (against her will) to hospital. They were on the point of sending her home, deciding she had overeaten, when I insisted on a CT scan. They discovered that there was a large cyst in her brain, and she was at once rushed to another hospital, where the cyst that was putting enormous pressure on her brain was drained. I will never forget walking into her hospital room just hours after the operation: my mum, the woman I loved and admired, was sitting up in bed, talking and laughing. I had my mum back, and I thank God for it every day since. But it didn’t stop me from thinking about dementia and Alzheimer’s and how this devastating disease is so little understood, and I knew that one day I wanted to write a book about it as best as I could—a book that would somehow open up the mind of a sufferer and show it to the world.
Well, on that day that I remembered my dream about Adam, these two ideas collided, and Claire was born. Several months of research, writing, and rewriting followed, and I found myself pouring my own memories into The Day We Met. Claire’s red wedding dress is my red wedding dress. Claire and Caitlin’s dance to Rhapsody in Blue actually happened when I was a girl. My mum sends me newspaper clippings every week. (Even though I see her in person more than once a week!) I watched my little girl dance and sing solo in the school play full of fear and anxiety and then relief as she came into her own and showed me a strength I never knew she had. Those are some of my memories that are in the book, and there are others too.
So, sometimes when you are working on a novel, there occurs, so rarely, a kind of alchemy that produces from a jumble of words and ideas, thoughts and emotions, something precious. And that’s how I feel about The Day We Met. I hope you do too.
1. A consistent thread throughout the novel is that of history repeating itself. Both Caitlin and Claire get pregnant young and without husbands, and Ruth must watch her husband and her daughter succumb to the same disease. What do you think Coleman suggests about fate? Do we have the ability to carve our own destiny? Can we be prevented from making the same mistakes that our parents and their parents made?
2. After watching Caitlin in a play, Claire realizes, “Being a mother is about protecting your children from every conceivable thing that might cause them hurt, but it’s also about trusting them to live the best way for them, the best way they can; and trusting that even when you are not there to hold their hand, they can succeed.” Do you agree? Was Claire right to shield Caitlin from the truth about her father? If you were Claire, what would you have done?
3. Why do you think Claire can confide in Ryan more easily than she can confide in the rest of her family? Why is an outsider more appealing to her at this time in her life?
4. At one point, Claire realizes that people have started seeing her as the crazy person, as “the one that no one looks in the eye anymore.” How do you think it would feel to be aware of being a pariah? If you saw Claire in her altered state, what would you think/assume?
5. Do you agree with Caitlin’s decision not to find out if she has the Alzheimer’s gene? What would you have done in her situation?
6. If you and your loved ones were making a memory book of your life, what would you want to include?
7. How did you feel about Claire’s relationship with Ryan before and after it was revealed that he was Greg? Were you surprised? Was Greg right to mislead her? Why is it important that she have this experience?
8. At the end, Claire says, “I did write a book. We all did. We wrote the story of our lives, and I am here, among these pages. This is where I will always be.” Beyond an exercise assigned by her doctor, why do you think the book becomes so important to Claire?
9. If you knew you had early-onset Alzheimer’s, would you change anything about your life?
10. As Claire starts to lose her memories, she worries that she’s starting to lose hold of her identity. Do you believe identity and memory are intrinsically linked, or can they be separated?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When I was younger, my friends and I would play the game of which would be worse: going blind or going deaf? Now I know there is something much worse…losing yourself. THE DAY WE MET is the story of Claire, a middle-age woman who is struggling with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Everyone in her life is affected by her disease– her husband (Greg), her teenage daughter (Caitlin), her toddler (Esther), and her mother. Claire’s mother had to go through the same thing with her husband, Claire’s father. Claire had been putting off going to the doctor, but when she finally does she’s told the disease is progressing much faster than originally anticipated. She’s afraid of her husband, confusing her daughters, and acting like a rebellious teenager with her mother. She’s also drawn to a mysterious man she’s recently met named Ryan, but she doesn’t know why. I thought THE DAY WE MET was a tenderly sweet story, but I didn’t feel too much of a connection with many of the characters. I enjoyed the dynamic between Claire, Caitlin, and Claire’s mother. THE DAY WE MET makes readers realize what is really important in life – making good memories which will hopefully last long after you’re gone (in one capacity or another). I got caught up in Claire’s pain, frustration, and anger stemming from herself slipping through her mind’s fingers. I thought it was unlikely Claire would be suddenly 100% lucid and back to her old self at certain points and I didn’t always understand the Ryan angle (even when it was explained later). Still, THE DAY WE MET is a touching and poignant story.
This wonderfully written book is a moving portrayal of a woman and her family dealing with her early onset Alzheimer's. It is, at times, funny, sad, , witty, intriguing, and all the while, captivating. Told from the different perspectives of the family members and the one suffering Alzheimer's, it reveals the deep emotional suffering they all endure, but also how they make the most of their remaining time together. It is beautifully done and I highly recommend it. I think, perhaps, I may even read it again.
Well the book attempts to describe a persons mind, thoughts and outlook through the dementia veil she lives behind. Not sure she got it right as who really knows, but bless her for at least trying to explain life with this devastating disease.
The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman is a British novel. Claire Armstrong is an English teacher, has a husband, two daughters, and has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s. Despite a new medication, Claire’s condition is rapidly deteriorating. Her mother, Ruth has moved into the house to help take care of Claire and her three year old daughter, Esther. Caitlin, Claire’s other daughter, is almost twenty-one, and is home from the university until the start of the new semester (or so everyone believes). Claire’s husband, Greg is younger than Claire (they never gave his exact age) and they have only been married a short time (over a year). Claire can no longer drive (since she forgot what a steering wheel was and plowed into a mailbox). Now she is having to give up teaching which she loved. Ruth tries to keep an eye on Claire, but sometimes Claire is just determined and escapes. The first time she disappears in the rain and no one can find her. Claire ends up at a coffee shop and meets a nice man named Ryan. Ryan gives Claire his phone number. Claire gets back home, but she will soon find a way to break free again. Claire knows what she is doing is wrong, but she does it anyway (then she gets lost, forgets where she lives, who she is, and cannot find her way home). Greg feels the loss of Claire the most. Claire is withdrawing from Greg and acts like he is a stranger. Greg gives Claire a journal to use. Recommended by her counselor, Diane to use a journal as a memory book. For Claire and the family to write down things to remember, events, etc. Caitlin is not sure how to tell her mother and the family her news. She knows she needs to tell them, but she keeps putting it off. Claire has finally told Caitlin about her biological father. Caitlin thought he didn’t want her, but it turns out he never knew about her. Little Esther is a drama queen (her way or temper tantrums) and does not quite understand what is happening to her mother. When Claire starts acting more childish, Esther is her co-conspirator (which leads to another escape to the park). Claire ends up meeting Ryan again. She really likes him and he cares for her. Will Caitlin meet her biological father? What is Caitlin hiding from everyone? Will Claire and Greg be okay? Who is Ryan? The Day We Met is also has chapters where it goes back into the childhood of Claire and Caitlin as well as insight into how Ruth turned out the way she did (how she changed from a carefree hippie). I have to admit it took me three tries to get through this book (I have been trying to read this book since March). It does have a nice ending, but it is a depressing book. I give The Day We Met 3 out of 5 stars. It is an interesting story (about early onset Alzheimer’s and how it can affect a woman and her family). I just think it is lacking. I do not know if we needed all the drama with Caitlin added into the story as well as Esther and her over-the-top behavior. I did like the twist with Ryan (though I did figure it out early on in the book). There is some mild foul language in the book (thankfully, just a little) and it is written in the first person (from different character’s perspective). I received a complimentary copy of The Day We Met from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The review and opinions expressed are my own.