Helen Barbour – The A to Z of Normal

The A to Z of Normal is the debut novel from Helen Barbour, and it follows Clare Thorpe as she battles to ensure that her blossoming new relationship can flourish and allow her to have the life and security that she’s always dreamed of.

Clare is a very modern woman, successful, focussed, engaged with the world, but full of conflict about her personal relationships. She is on the verge of estrangement from her sister, and she is in love with a man called Tom, who lives far away, but who has just asked her to become his wife. Despite all of this though, her biggest battle is to try and stop her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) ruining her life.

Tom on the other hand comes across as relatively care free. He has a dog, a dog that leaves hair on duvets and begs for food at the table, he leaves his dirty wellies by the back door, and he can be a bit of a mess – and after he proposes to Clare, she is worried whether she’ll ever be able to accept him for who he is, and whether he’ll accept her for who she is.

The book is engaging from the off as it becomes quickly apparent that conflict is brewing. It’s not often that I end up screaming at the page in the first few pages telling a character to do something – but that’s the magic of this kind of literary honesty, you invest immediately. As a sufferer of OCD and anxiety herself, Barbour is writing from a place of personal experience and deep knowledge about the subject of mental health.

That’s how she has manages to portray, so sensitively, the challenges that Clare is facing. This is a romance novel for people who wouldn’t normally pick up a romance novel.

It’s a book you’ll read over and over, the one you’ll pick up when you’re browsing your bookshelves and looking for something that you can really get your teeth into.