With a Phillipa Ashley novel, you know just what you're getting before you open the book to the first page. There are fascinating locales, endearing protagonists, quirky secondary characters, an amazing love story and a gloriously happy ending. Carrie Goes Off The Map follows this trail perfectly.
Carrie Brownhill and Huw Brigstocke have been together for ten years. Their lives are thoroughly interwoven at Huw's farm, where Carrie works (when she's not doing amateur theater) and where the two of them live. None of this prevents Huw from breaking off their engagement just two weeks before the scheduled wedding festivities. Carrie is left with a broken heart, no home and no job. When she hears (in a rather atypical way) four months later, that Huw is marrying someone else, she tries to show her indignation up close and personal. She's stopped on the church steps by Dr. Matt Landor, their friend from University who is home on leave from his stint as a charity doctor in Tuman. Embarrassed by the emotional state she's been driven to, Carrie resolves to get over Huw once and for all and get on with her life. She and her friend Rowena plan a trip to the Continent to see a bit of the world before moving on to the next part of their lives. And Dolly, the so-named VW camper who plays a big and beloved part in the novel, is their vehicle of choice. When a last minute acting job prevents Rowena from going with Carrie, a substitution is made, and Matt takes her place.
The book really comes into its own as Matt and Carrie head, not for the Continent as Carrie had hoped, but to Cornwall. As the destinations come and go, Matt and Carrie get closer, almost without realizing it. There's this slow dawning of understanding between the two that deepens as the miles pass. For Carrie, there's "something" about Matt. And for Matt, there's that same "something" about Carrie. And when they finally do realize that what they really want is each other, it's Matt, the serial commitment-phobe, who wants something more permanent. And Carrie, scarred from her experience with Huw and desperate not to lose her heart without an impossible guarantee, steps away. Matt returns to Tuman, their relationship now reduced to email and Facebook posts.
It's at this point that I am so glad that Ms. Ashley doesn't get her inspiration from Nicholas Sparks, because if that were the case, this story would not have that hoped-for happy ending. There are some tense moments when we wonder if Carrie was not too hasty in sending the good doctor away the year before. But Ms. Ashley doesn't leave us hanging in suspense too long, thankfully, and everything comes right in the end for a girl who had nothing left to her in the beginning.
Carrie Goes Off The Map is published by Sourcebooks, due out December 1, 2011. I'd love to see this one into a made for TV movie. Any plans for that, Phillipa?