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We always talk about love at first sight – but what if you have never seen each other?

No, we are not talking about social distancing, no one is blind, and it is not an online dating story. In fact, it isn’t a dating story at all.

We are in a London hospital, the rehab ward. Alfie Mack is the life of the party, so to speak. He is one of the most loveable characters I have read in a long time. Despite having lost a leg (and worse, his two friends) in an accident, he is always upbeat, chats to the nurses, jokes with other patients and plays puzzles in his downtime. It is only at night that he wakes up screaming, reliving the accident that cost him so much. During the day however, he is a social butterfly striking up a conversation with everyone. That is at least, until he is specifically instructed not to speak to his new neighbour.

Before I Saw You

Alice, the stranger in the cubicle beside him, hasn’t spoken since she arrived at the hospital. Patients on the rehab ward don’t know what happened, but they have been told she wants to be alone. Her curtains are always drawn and she hasn’t had visitors since she arrived. Especially Alfie has been advised not to force her to speak. But can someone just be quiet forever? What horrible thing could have happened to her that no one is allowed to see her?

The truth is, even Alice doesn’t know what she looks like. Since she was rescued out of her burning office building, she hasn’t looked at herself in a mirror. A look at one of her burnt hands was enough to make her determined not to see the rest of her – and not to let anyone except the nurses enter her cubicle. She would have been content acting like there was nothing beyond the curtain surrounding her, if it wasn’t for the man she heard having nightmares in the bed next to her.

Slowly, Alice and Alfie begin to talk, but they never lay eyes on each other; though occasionally a hand stretches out from one cubicle to another. Night after night, they share their stories, weekends and Alfie’s family visits come and go, even Alice’s best friend visits from Australia (she is allowed inside the cubicle!), but the curtain still doesn’t move.

While Alfie is doing better every day and there is talk of being discharged, Alice is stuck in a world she doesn’t want to live in. You think there will be a turning point, but it doesn’t come. Sarah has to leave again, Alice wants to try yet another operation, Alfie is working towards being discharged…

A lot of pain and tears, but mostly love and compassion is compressed into the pages of this book and for the first time in a while, I found myself staying up way past my bed time to read, and read, and read.

Before I Saw You by Emily Houghton, published 4th February by Bantam Press IBSN: 978-1787633834. Please note, that this is an affiliate link and we may make a small commission on purchases through them.

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