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The Next Together
The Next Together
Initially set in Carlisle in 1745 against the background of the Jacobite rebellion The Next Together is a powerful and epic debut novel about fate and the timelessness of first love.
A powerful and epic debut novel about fate and the timelessness of first love. Katherine and Matthew are destined to be born again and again. Each time their presence changes history for the better, and each time, they fall hopelessly in love, only to be tragically separated. How many times can you lose the person you love? For Matthew and Katherine it is again and again, over and over, century after century. But why do they keep coming back? How many times must they die to save the world? What else must they achieve before they can be left to live and love in peace? Maybe the next together will be different -
Paperback; 198 x 129mm
Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The Next Together by Lauren James. Walker Books. £7.99
"England!" Katherine said in horror. "They may attack Carlisle."
He looked at her gravely. "Yes. But we've got some defences and a garrison. Well, you can hardly call it a garrison. No conflict was ever expected, so our defence consists entirely of a few old men with gout who have been here since the last uprising."
The scene is Carlisle in 1745. Katherine Finchley, an eighteen-year-old heiress is talking to Matthew Galloway, the family coachman. Tired of Carlisle society, she has slipped out of the ball and is having an anxious conversation in the cool night air. There is news of Bonnie Prince Charlie's rapid advance across Scotland and his taking of Edinburgh. Now Carlisle awaits as the savage Highlanders, who are said to eat babies, prepare to march south.
But that's not all. Katherine and Matthew - same names, same bodies, same affections and emotions - are to be found in 1854 boarding the troopship which will take them to the Crimea. Matthew is the War Correspondent of the Times. Katherine is the servant of Lord Somerset, a general concerned that a civilian is going to the war. She is passing as a boy, dressed in boy's clothes, with her hair cropped, and has been ordered to gain a position as Galloway's assistant in order to spy on him.
And these are not the only stories. Matthew Galloway and Katherine Finchley work in a laboratory in Nottingham University in 2019 developing a bacteria which will make crops infinitely productive, but which is also fatally radioactive. They are shot and terrorists steal the bacteria.
But they, Matthew and Katherine, first meet when Matthew joins Katherine at a lab desk in the Biology Department on the Campus of the University of Nottingham in 2039. "He was wearing a tweed waistcoat of all things, over a ratty brand T-shirt. His light-brown hair hung over his eyes in a retro fringe that seemed to be based on something from the late noughties." It is twenty years after the Third World War, when Scotland gained its independence from England.
"She handed him a pair of latex gloves. Their hands touched, just slightly."
In Carlisle, Katherine having "stared vacantly out of the carriage window, taking in the bustling streets" of Carlisle steps down from the carriage. "He smiled gently at her as she held tightly to his hand for balance."
In Southampton, in 1845, Katherine, or Kit, or Christopher Russell, says "Hello" to Matthew Galloway. "She mentally shook herself. She sounded like a fool. She was all flustered, just because he was quite striking, in a posh sort of way, if . . . if you liked that sort of thing. She swallowed. She took his proffered hand a little distractedly."
Each time, at the key moment, as the parallel stories develop, the text interjects: "First contact established in time-landscape 2039" and so on.
The text is also interrupted by other material - screen searches for Matthew Galloway, for instance - which provide the awareness of a possible connection between the time landscapes - and newspaper adverts - Matthew's one in The Times for a servant, the advert for "A delightful country residence, 17 miles from Carlisle" in Cumbria, England, which appeared in The Times in 1745 - or notes from folio journals or diaries.
In Carlisle, Katherine, in the mist, overhears Matthew plotting with his cousin, Anise, to join the rebels. She determines to follow him. On a late night carriage ride, where she rides on the narrow box and leans closely against her coachman in the chill night air, she arranges to be dressed in a set of his old clothes and prepares for an adventure.
The Next Together is a remarkable book. It ranges across time and place with such casual credibility and fluency, weaves together its plots with such ease and is told with such panache, that it little matters that it is totally improbable and carelessly inaccurate.
Lauren James claims that: "That the many historical inaccuracies are all in the name of historical licence, and should be taken as such."
And they should. The book is wonderfully inventive and great fun.
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