Beautiful Messy Love is warm and uplifting, like any good romance novel. But it’s more than just boy-meets-girl; Tess Woods has written a compelling and complex book that really makes us think about what matters.
Beautiful Messy Love tracks four characters through chapters written in their perspective on their intertwining and, well, messy search for love. Everyone seems to know each other, but it never feels convenient or obvious. Set in Perth, the characters Nick, Anna, Lily, and Toby are thoughtfully composed, and we end up feeling for all of them.
Nick Harding is a famous footballer for the Western Rangers. He seems to have it all – nice house, the fame, the riches, and the multiple women. However, beneath the veneer he puts on for the media and his fans, Nick feels purposeless and alone. His father has recently died, and he’s never forgiven his mother for cheating on him. After waking up next to a woman he can’t remember the name of, he makes a pledge – this is the day he’s going to change.
And then he meets Anna. She’s beautiful and intelligent, and Nick is immediately drawn to her. She’s nothing like Nick at first glance – her words are measured and sincere, and she works three jobs (two unpaid!) just to give back to her family and her community. But her past has left a deep scar on her, and her family, and it will affect her budding relationship with Nick, as well as forcing Anna to confront memories and grief she thought she had long laid to rest.
Lily is Nick’s sister. She’s a student doctor, in her fifth year of studying, and making her way through course after course, feeling like she’s going through the motions. It doesn’t help that this semester she’s studying oncology, and she can’t seem to stop crying. She’s perked up a little by meeting Toby, a handsome man in the cafe downstairs, but her hopes are quickly dashed when she realises that he’s the husband of one of her patients, Jenny, who has only days to live with terminal cancer.
The four characters’ lives are woven tightly around one another. Toby and Lily meet in the cafe where Anna works, and Toby’s brother is her manager. Nick seems to be the spark that sets all their interactions aflame, and their developing relationships will affect all of their lives in complex waves.
This is not just a novel about love. It’s always satisfying to see a happy ending where the couple rides off into the sunset, but Beautiful Messy Love acknowledges life rarely turns out that way. It’s complicated, and sometimes, though you might love someone, it’s not enough. Ultimately, it’s about learning to love yourself – every complex and messy part of yourself. Loving someone, as Woods points out, is about loving them even when things get hard.
It’s also about several important social issues. Woods tackles racism, sexism, and Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in one fell swoop. As invested as we are in the love stories of the four characters, we are also confronted with a call to action, and to start standing up for what is right. Nick realises this, and as he does, so do we.
Beautiful Messy Love is a funny read. It’ll make you laugh and smile with the characters, but it’ll also make you think. It’ll make you want to do better, be better, and love better. Above all, it’ll make you beautifully, messily in love with Tess Wood’s writing.