M is for Musso

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I’ve been waiting to read Will You be There? by Guillaume Musso for ages. I caught a very small review of it over a year ago, and for some reason I felt compelled to read it. I’m a sucker for a time-travelling relationship story. Before you go on, I’m probably going to tell you the plot so please only read the last paragraph and not the middle bits.

The basic premise is that Elliott is a sixty year old, incredibly successful surgeon who lives in San Francisco. He has a twenty year old daughter and a best friend whose friendship has lasted forty years. At first glance he has it all, until it’s revealed that he has terminal lung cancer. He has also never gotten over his first love, Ilena, who died in an accident thirty years before.

A chance meeting with an old Cambodian witch doctor (in Cambodia, not San Francisco, so not that chance, I guess) leads Elliott to ten small golden pills which will grant him his final wish – to see Ilena again. Once ingested, each of the pills transports him to his thirty year old self for around twenty minutes. His thirty year old self is a bit taken aback. Sixty year old Elliott ends up blurting out that Ilena dies to his younger self, who immediately demands to save her. A furious tangle of time and emotions ensues, where Elliott at 60 doesn’t want his daughter’s life compromised (as she is not Ilena’s) and Elliott at 30 wants Ilena back more than a daughter he’s never met.

I know. Haven’t they ever seen Back to the Future? Don’t they know what meddling with the past can do? People disappear! Actually, they don’t. Ilena is saved from a killer whale type animal biting her head off because young Elliott keeps an appointment he’d cancelled the first time around. However, part of the pact with his double was that he had to save her and break up with her, to make sure his daughter would still be alive. The break up results in Ilena throwing herself off the Golden Gate Bridge, and miraculously surviving. This is probably because old Elliott is there to point out the blood leak in her brain which they missed the second time around, so she died anyway. So, third time around Ilena is alive but every one of her limbs is crushed. And Elliott isn’t allowed to see her anyway. Brilliant.

Added to that, he falls out with his best friend Matt because for some unfathomable reason he isn’t allowed to tell him anything more about his double or the pact they made. As if time wasn’t messed up enough already.

So, in the present time Ilena’s alive but alone, Matt’s married and rich and Elliott’s a terminally ill single dad. So far, so good. With only thirty pages left though, Musso needs to wrap it up to a slightly happier ending pretty quickly. So Elliott dies of cancer, leaving Matt with a journal which explains everything, quite handily. Through a convoluted pathway Matt finds the LAST golden pill and realises that Elliott meant for him to take it. Matt drives to Ilena, gives her the diary, explains to her what he’s going to do (bring Elliott back) and then takes the pill. He finds himself in hospital where his younger, former best friend is far from amused. He’s on the roof, smoking, so Matt has just enough time to warn him against cigarettes and stub it out before being dragged back to the present. At which point, Elliott is alive and walking along the beach, where Ilena meets him. Yay.

It felt like a long ASH advert. I felt cheated. As if stopping smoking would mean he’d be alive thirty years later – he could’ve been hit by a bus, exploded with stress or taken the gateway drug to heroin and overdosed. I also didn’t care about Ilena and Elliott.

It was a novella, really. The story felt too big for this but too small for a proper novel. It could have made a cracking short story, nestled in amongst others along similar lines – fate, destiny, love, life. There were really only three characters in the story – Matt, Ilena and Elliott and to be honest, I kept waiting for the wife swapping to happen. It never did. Perhaps that would have made it more emotionally involving.

The story was interesting though, but I felt that it’d been semi-covered so many times before that I may as well watch Back to the Future.

There were some odd points in it too, though. Time travel aside, I expected the older Elliott to recall when he was younger Elliott that the older Elliott came to see him nine times. Except he didn’t, or at least he didn’t appear to. Matt’s memories changed, but Elliott’s didn’t. Old Elliott talked to old Matt before being told that they hadn’t talked in thirty years. There didn’t seem to be a solid theory for how memories work in the ever changing timeline.

I’d recommend this to anyone who fancies a bit of a departure from standard boy meets girl, boy cheats on girl pastel covered novels, but don’t expect a philosophical masterpiece, will you.

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