The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley – book review

A little green exercise book is left abandoned in a cafe, picked up and purveyed by the owner of the independent London business. Inside, she reads of the life of Julian Jessop – a 75-year-old flamboyant former artist who has brushed not only paint strokes, but shoulders with the likes of Vivienne Westwood and David Bailey.

But in truth, the well-dressed pensioner finds himself alone and without purpose after his wife passed away. He poured his heart onto the pages of the notebook in a bit to be more authentic.

Cafe owner, Monica, a grieving daughter who desperately wants to settle down and have children, makes it her mission to bring deflated Julian to life again, but not before penning her own story in the book, and ditching it at a dining table in a lavish restaurant.

On the front of the notebook are the words The Authenticity Project.

This book, by Clare Pooley, centres around six strangers who become connected by this green exercise book. Each reading one another’s story, bringing them all together. Each and every one of them living lives that are nothing like they make out on social media. So, Clare begs the question: What would happen if they told the truth instead?

Read more: Ghosts by Dolly Alderton book review

The blurb for The Authenticity Project reads: “Julian Jessop is tired of hiding the deep loneliness he feels. So he begins The Authenticity Project – a small green notebook containing the truth about his life.

“Leaving the notebook on a table in his friendly neighbourhood café, Julian never expects Monica, the owner, to track him down after finding it. Or that she’ll be inspired to write down her own story.

“Little do they realize that such small acts of honesty hold the power to impact all those who discover the notebook and change their lives completely.”

Alongside Julian and Monica, alcoholic drug abuser Hazard tries to turn his life around after discovering the book, heading to a remote island to detox – he very much reminds me of Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass. It’s on the island that Hazard meets Aussie surfer, Riley, sending him to London to meet Monica. The cycle of book-passing continues, offering an optimistic read full of hope, promise and escapism.

The Authenticity Project intelligently interlinks these stranger’s stories, and it’s truly wonderful to watch their relationships blossom. The book challenges to look inward at your own authenticity, and reminds us that not everything is as it seems both in life and online, in turn, reminding us to be kind and non-judgemental.  You simply don’t know what someone else is going through, or what their experience has been – only what they tell us – and our impact on others can be far greater than we imagine.

Read more: Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers book review

Hazard, in particular, was a brilliantly written and convincing character. Whilst The Authenticity Project was Clare’s first novel, her memoir – released in 2017 – documented her battle with booze and why she gave it up to start living.

The thoughtful Fulham writer poured a piece of her soul into each and every character. She revealed in her acknowledgements: “Five years ago, I was – like Alice – living a seemingly perfect life, and yet the truth was very different. Like Hazard, I was an addict. My addiction was high-priced, good-quality wine. After many failed attempts to quit, I decided – like Julian – to tell my truth to the world.”

I never used to read acknowledgements, not until recently. I find them so soul-bearing and beautiful, and the perfect way to find closure in a book. I’m so glad I read Clare’s – especially because I was desperate to know what happened to Keith, the dog.

Clare’s second novel is set to be released in Spring 2022, and I can’t wait to read it.

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