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  • Writer's pictureCaitlyn Lynch

Book Review: The Five-Year Plan by Carla Burgess

I think a lot of us get to a point in life where we look back and we wonder, what if. What if that one special first love who it didn’t work out with, came back into our life? What if we got a second chance?

This is the premise of The Five Year Plan. When journalist Orla is invited to an exhibition by wildlife photographer and old flame Aiden, the renewed attraction between them is unwelcome at best. Because five years ago, they were on very different paths - her determined to write for a major London newspaper, him happily travelling the world and sleeping in tents - and nothing really seems to have changed. They’re wonderful together, but they don’t want the same things. Their five year plans led them in very different directions.

Most of the first half of the book covers their original relationship, when Orla’s very first interview was with the guy tracking otters down by the river in her local town. Things actually go disastrously wrong when she sprains her ankle and Aiden comes to the rescue; they start what’s a very close friendship that Orla thinks can’t be anything more because he’s a free spirit. It progresses to a romance, but Orla was right… soon enough he’s off to India. He asks her to go with him, but doesn’t even really seem to have a plan for what exactly she might do with him there, and she says no, scared things won’t work out and she’ll be left stranded, alone and jobless halfway around the world.

To be honest I was uncomfortable with a lot of Aiden’s actions, both in the five years ago and the present timelines. He put a lot of pressure on Orla, and failed to make any meaningful moves himself. For example, when she confessed she still had feelings for him after they got back together and mentioned marriage, he immediately reacted with shock - what, marriage? Me? - leaving her wondering if she had stuck her neck out only for him to not reciprocate. He pressed her for honesty, getting angry with her when she was shy about her feelings, but he wasn’t honest himself. She was the one who had to say “I love you”, who had to make all the sacrifices, while he made subtle gestures and expected her to interpret them as grand declarations.

In the five years ago timeline, Aiden’s a free spirit and it was perfectly reasonable for Orla to have gently wistful thoughts of him as the one who got away. In the present day when he comes back into her life with an obvious agenda which he doesn’t state up front? He’s a manipulative jerk, and I wanted Orla to see right through him and find someone who didn’t want her to change anything about herself, who saw her as perfect just as she was. I didn’t want them to end up together, I was horrified by what their ‘happy ending’ as a couple looked like, and even though the writing here was very good, I just can’t bring myself to give it any more than two stars.

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of this title via NetGalley.

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