An elderly man reads a story to his ailing wife about two star-crossed lovers from years ago. Noah Calhoun and Allie Nelson met at a local carnival in 1932. They fell in love at first sight and became inseparable until her family moved away. For the next two years, Noah wrote to Allie regularly but never received a reply. He went on with his life, first moving to New Jersey where he worked in a scrapyard, and later went off to fight in Europe during WWII. No matter where he went, the ghost of his whirlwind summer romance with Allie haunted him, making it impossible to have a successful relationship. Fourteen years later, Noah is living a peaceful existence in North Carolina in an old house that he restored after returning from the war, when who should pull into his driveway, but the woman he's never been able to forget.
Allie had never forgotten Noah either. Her parents didn't really approved of Noah, thinking he wasn't good enough for their daughter. She went off to college and has since become engaged to a man who is more to their liking. She loves her fiancé, but knows there is something missing in their relationship, the passion that she has only shared with one man. Three weeks before her wedding, Allie sees a picture of Noah in the local paper and knows she must see him one more time before getting married. When she pulls up to Noah's house, she isn't quite sure what she's hoping for, but what she finds is that their love never died. After only one day with Noah, she's sure she'll never have anything like this with her fiancé, but will she have the strength to make the most difficult decision of her life?
The Notebook is a poignant story of true and unending love in its purest form, and the power and magic of love to defy all odds. It begins with an elderly man, sitting by his wife's bedside, reading her a story. From there, we travel back in time to when star-crossed lovers Noah and Allie met as teenagers in 1932 and spent one magical summer together. They were from opposite sides of the tracks. Allie was from a well-to-do family with political connections, and Noah was more or less a nobody. An aristocratic type system still prevailed in the South, so Allie's family didn't approve of a match with Noah and the two were separated for fourteen years. Noah moved to New Jersey where he worked for several years before joining the Army and heading for Europe to fight in WWII. Allie went to college, abandoned her artwork of which her parents did not approve, and eventually became engaged to an attorney of whom they did approve. Over the years, neither was able to forget the other. Noah has had no successful relationships since, because the ghost of the time he spent with Allie still haunts him, and deep down, Allie knows there is something missing in her relationship with her fiancé.
Neither really knows what became of the other until Allie sees a picture of Noah in a local newspaper just three weeks before her wedding. Seeing him again, stirs memories and emotions, and even though she doesn't really know why at the time, she is compelled to go see him in person one last time before getting married. She tells her family and fiancé that she needs to get away from the stress of wedding planning and heads for New Bern alone. Noah can hardly believe his eyes when the woman of his dreams pulls up in front of his house one day out of the blue. The longing and desire between Noah and Allie is extremely moving and palpable and hasn't dimmed one bit in fourteen long years. I love how they slip right back into a comfortable relationship as though they've never been apart. It's obvious that they're soul mates and perfect for each other, and in their heart of hearts, they know it too. After only one evening with Noah, Allie knows that what they share is something she's never had with her fiancé and never will.
At the point when Allie must make her fateful decision about which man she is going to choose, the story cuts back to the elderly man and his wife who we discover has Alzheimer's. This part of the book is so powerful and affecting, I read parts of it through a blur of tears. The lengths to which this man goes to help his wife remember the love they share is moving beyond words, an expression of a true and pure love. The way he romances her and gets her to fall in love with him over and over again and persists in doing it day after day, never giving up even when it doesn't always turn out the way he hopes is potent stuff, so much so that I'm sitting here crying my eyes out while writing this. It's the kind of love I think we all hope for, but so few seem to actually achieve.
Many readers seem to categorize The Notebook as romance, but I don't see it as such. For me, romance as a genre, usually only follows the couple through the falling in love stages of the relationship with the happily ever after implied. It taps into the fantasy of what we want love to be, while The Notebook takes that one step further. Not only do we get to see the beginnings of a relationship, we also get to see one very advanced in years, but no less passionate for the passage of time. It also takes a more realistic look at what it truly means to love someone. It's not just the gooey feeling we get when first falling in love or the sexual desire that soon follows. It's something that can last a lifetime when nurtured and a couple is fully committed to one another. Make no mistake, The Notebook is very romantic, but to me it is not merely a romance, but a love story.
The Notebook was my first read by Nicholas Sparks and certainly won't be my last. It was also his debut novel and very impressive for a first effort. The opening chapter and the latter part of the book with the elderly couple is written in first person, present tense which was beautifully rendered, giving these parts a deep sense of immediacy. Noah and Allie's story in the past is written in third person, past tense. This part was wonderful too, but I did have a small problem with the second chapter. When the author goes back to Noah and Allie's first meeting that summer, he tells it more like a narrator relating a story which made it a little difficult to get into at first. Because of the passive nature of this passage, I wasn't able to fully immerse myself on an emotional level like I wanted to and couldn't help wondering if it might have been better if written in a more active voice. Once the narrative got to Noah and Allie's reunion it was much better and only improved with every page I read. The ending was so utterly beautiful, I couldn't help giving the book the full five stars despite the early misstep.
Mr. Sparks definitely has a way with words, turning prose into pure poetry. There are so many quotable passages in this book, I almost feel like putting the whole thing in my memorable quotes file. For some reason, I was under the impression that Nicholas Sparks' books didn't have any love scenes in them, but apparently I was mistaken. I was very pleasantly surprised to find one, as well as other expressions of sexual desire, and even though that one love scene is only moderately descriptive, it was very sensual and emotional, unexpectedly well done for a male author. The Notebook is the first story in a duet about members of the Calhoun family, and I very much look forward to reading its sequel, The Wedding. This book has certainly found a spot on my keeper shelf. Reading it was a touching and emotional experience that has left a huge impression on me. It was an inspiring, thought-provoking, powerful and passionate love story that was absolutely unforgettable.
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