The novel opens with Declan, the fiancé, going for a job interview. Molly, the bride-to-be going for a dress fitting for her wedding which is being organised by her bossy sister Laura. There’s a sympathetic, heavily pregnant friend. The second male character readers meet, albeit in the form of brief eye contact as Molly is waiting in a queue at a bank at Dublin’s airport, is Luke, Molly’s first boyfriend and an Irish equivalent of the High School sports jock. Readers are told that, with her braces and flat chest, Molly was lucky Luke even looked at her, let alone dated her, but there was a family tragedy and Luke’s family moved away to France, abruptly ending a teenage romance.
Then Declan drops a bombshell: he’s got the job but there’s a ten week induction in the company’s Japanese headquarters so the wedding has to be delayed. But that’s all smoke, the real problem is that Declan didn’t even mention his forthcoming wedding but simply assumed Molly would fit in with his employer’s plans. Via a search engine, Molly discovers Luke will be visiting Ireland whilst Declan is away. Instead of instantly re-arranging a new date for the wedding, Molly suggests waiting for Declan to come back from Japan first. Although Ellen, the best friend, tries to talk Molly out of meeting up with Luke again, Laura, Molly’s sister, agrees and helps facilitate the plan.
Unfortunately it’s not until page 155 that readers meet Luke again. In the meantime readers are introduced to Molly’s family via several Sunday brunches, Laura’s family where we learn she rushed into a shotgun marriage on falling pregnant with twins at 19 even though she was under no pressure to do so and her husband’s well-paid job enables her to indulge in retail-therapy but ultimately she’s falling out of love with him but too in love with her current lifestyle to divorce him, Ellen’s exasperating wait for her child to be born and Molly’s job as agony aunt for a teenage magazine which Laura sees as a waste of her psychology degree.
Luke’s met with much ambivalence: Molly, vacillating between feeling relief Declan’s called the wedding off (postponed in his view) and reminding herself why she fell in love with him in the first place, is now not sure that meeting up with Luke again is a good idea. The plan was to accidently bump into Luke in the hotel. In the event he spots Molly in a shopping centre and initiates polite contact and a brief catch up over a coffee, saving Molly from the potential embarrassment of “What if he doesn’t recognise me?”, “What if he cuts me dead?” which also kills any drama or tension from the situation, leaving readers ambivalent too: 155 pages of build up to an anti-climax? Maybe the second meeting will offer more…
Unfortunately I found I really didn’t care. The writing flows, the characters are real and Molly’s dilemma is understandable as is her desire to wait and make the right decision. She’s not under any pressure to do so: everyone’s waiting for her to decide and isn’t piling her with unsolicited advice. Declan has no idea that she’s met Luke and, although Luke knows Molly’s annoyed at the postponement of her wedding, Luke’s not putting pressure on her to leave Declan.
However, there’s a bigger problem than the lack of dramatic tension surrounding Molly’s dilemma. As a reader, I don’t know enough about either Declan or Luke to care which man she chooses. They’re both in steady employment, both care about Molly, both have been welcomed into Molly’s family so I’ve no reason to conclude that one is more suitable for Molly than the other. Therefore I don’t know which man I’d recommend to Molly, so I don’t care which man she chooses. Because I don’t have a vested interest in the outcome, I’m not compelled to read on.
The second meeting between Luke and Molly is better from a reader’s viewpoint: more hesitation, more awkwardness and a bit more information about the family tragedy that prompted Luke’s family to leave for France. Molly acts as if she’s no closer to deciding whether she should still stay with Declan or how she now feels about Luke. As Ellen points out, both decisions need to be independent of each other: Molly can’t decide to leave Declan for Luke and then return to Declan if she and Luke don’t work out, likewise she can’t stay with Declan if part of her is still wondering if she and Luke could have had a second chance.
However, she’s saved by Belle as her mother has a fall from steps in the kitchen, banging her head on a worktop as she falls, both Laura and Molly return to Dublin and Molly has some space to consider her decisions. Fortunately Belle’s injuries are inconvenient rather than serious.
But the accident doesn’t paper over a big crack in the plot. At the end of the second conversation, readers, who know Molly quite well now, also know what decision she’s going to make regarding Luke. So instead of two dilemmas, Molly’s left facing only one: the Declan dilemma and it doesn’t take readers long to work out how that’s going to end.
“Always on my Mind” is a pleasant read about a group of nice characters but lacks any hook to draw the reader in and keep her turning the pages.