Review of Colleen Oakley’s Close Enough to Touch

Author Colleen Oakley lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She often wears her pyjamas while writing and drinks wine out of a straw. Read on for a review of her second novel, Close Enough to Touch, that appeared in our March issue.

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Had I first encountered Close Enough to Touch on a shelf at my local bookshop, I would have steered well clear. It looks like the kind of book I would avoid, peopled as it is with emotionally troubled protagonists who, despite long odds against them ever meeting in the real world, seem destined for fictional romance. It also features obnoxious or precocious children. However, in the deft hands of author Colleen Oakley, what could have been a quirky but predictable romantic comedy, is in fact a heartwarming, insightful and genuinely moving read.

Jubilee Jenkins was born with a rare and debilitating allergy; she reacts to the touch of other humans. Having suffered a near-fatal reaction to a kiss as a teenager, Jubilee has lived the past nine years as a recluse, living off a monthly payment from her mother and not setting foot outside her home – not even to take the rubbish out. Only when her mother dies – and the cheques stop coming – must 28-year-old Jubilee take tentative steps back into the world beyond her front door. There she meets Eric Keegan, the divorced father of a teenage daughter who refuses to speak to him and an adopted son whose unnerving fascination with explosives and telekinesis is attracting the attention of the authorities.

Told from the perspectives of Jubilee and Eric in alternating chapters, Close Enough to Touch is far more than just another boy-meets-girl tale. It’s a richly textured, compassionate account of the toll that grief, loneliness, fear and regret can take on one’s relationships, choices and sense of self. Despite my initial reservations, I was delighted to find that the novel’s resolution is by no means twee but is in fact an eminently satisfying conclusion to what is an entertaining and thought-provoking testament to the power of human connection.

Close Enough to Touch by Colleen Oakley is published by Allen & Unwin, rrp $29.99.

Reviewed by Heather Lunney.

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