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Eight Perfect Hours

A Novel

LIST PRICE $17.00

ONE OF THE BEST FEEL-GOOD BOOKS OF 2021 BY THE WASHINGTON POST

“I read Eight Perfect Hours in one sitting, in four perfect hours, because I couldn’t bear to put it down without knowing the ending.” —Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author

In this romantic and heartwarming novel, two strangers meet in chance circumstances during a blizzard and spend one perfect evening together, thinking they’ll never see each other again. But fate seems to have different plans. From the acclaimed author of the “swoon-worthy…rom-com” (The Washington Post) Dear Emmie Blue.

On a snowy evening in March, thirty-something Noelle Butterby is on her way back from an event at her old college when disaster strikes. With a blizzard closing off roads, she finds herself stranded, alone in her car, without food, drink, or a working charger for her phone.

All seems lost until Sam Attwood, a handsome American stranger also trapped in a nearby car, knocks on her window and offers assistance. What follows is eight perfect hours together, until morning arrives and the roads finally clear. The two strangers part, positive they’ll never see each other again but fate, it seems, has a different plan. As the two keep serendipitously bumping into one another, they begin to realize that perhaps there truly is no such thing as coincidence.

With plenty of charming twists and turns and Lia Louis’s “bold, standout voice” (Gillian McAllister, author of The Good Sister), Eight Perfect Hours is a gorgeously crafted novel that will make you believe in the power of fate.

Chapter One chapter one
To Noelle. My girl. My best friend.

Here it is. A letter from past me, to future you. God, it’s so strange writing this, knowing fifteen years from now, you’re actually going to be reading these words. The Future Noelle Butterby! I wonder where you’ll be, and who you’ll end up becoming. I suppose that’s what this is for—to write down our predictions and hopes for each other. (And you’d better have put Leo DiCaprio in my letter, Elle, and not just a date and a measly kiss goodnight either. I’m talking sweaty car scene in Titanic, with added Boyz II Men songs and less iceberg-related deaths, obviously.)

Now. On to my hopes for you, Future Noelle, and I have plenty.

Firstly, I hope you’re so busy that you almost forget to come tonight—to be there when they take the time capsule out of the ground. I hope you arrive straight off a plane from… LA, maybe? Indonesia? Oh! What about Queensland, land of hot scuba diving instructors? Well. Wherever it is, all I know is you’ll be so well-traveled that your kids will be named after cool, faraway villages nobody’s heard of and you’ll be the sort to slip into French mid-conversation “by accident.”

Secondly, I hope your life is full of love. Yeah, yeah, I know, classic cliché, classic me, but I do. Bursting with it! Butterflies, goose bumps, can’t-eat, make-you-puke love. I’d mention your soul mate—the one on the other end of your red thread—but I don’t want to make your eyes roll so much they get stuck in the back of your head, because you want to be able to look at the man. Because he’ll be totally hot. A charmer too. And so tall, he’ll give you a neck ache. Maybe he’ll even have to shop for special shoes because his feet will be that big. Only the best for you, my friend. Just wait and see.

I hope you find that job that doesn’t feel like work.

I hope you eventually nail the pizza dough recipe we screw up every single weekend.

I hope you ride that hot-air balloon, that you spend a summer night sleeping outside somewhere under the stars (no tents). I hope you take that all-night sleeper train. But mostly, I hope you’re happy, Noelle Butterby. That by now, you see what I see—all that power and kindness and light—and you’ve let it rip from inside you. Shown the world that you are here.

And lastly (because the size of the paper and envelope they’ve given us is so small, it’s an actual joke), I hope wherever we are, we’ll keep on talking to each other, no matter what. And remember, at least when we can’t be together, we just have to close our eyes and pretend.

Love you, Noelle.

Always,

Daisy x

I’m not exactly sure where I thought I’d be at this moment in time. If you’d asked me fifteen years ago, said, “So, Noelle, where do you think you’ll be on March the ninth, fifteen years from now?” I’m sure I’d have probably said something like, “happy, settled down,” or “like something out of those Park Christmas catalog adverts, I expect. You know. Nice house, smiling sweater-wearing husband, one of those posh corner sofas.” One thing is certain, though, I wouldn’t have expected this. Me, alone, stranded in my car at a standstill on a snowy motorway, my phone dead, tears removing my makeup quicker than any fancy product ever could. And my heart, breaking just a little. A bit of a mess, really. Of all the things I might’ve expected tonight, being a mess certainly wasn’t one of them. Not even close.

I might’ve known this evening was set to be a disaster—“go to shit” as my brother, Dilly, would say. The unexpected slow-drifting snow, and in March of all months, the painful, stop-start traffic, the phone charger port in my ancient car dying again, arriving over a half hour late despite leaving home right on time and having, for once in my entire life, planned the journey bloody meticulously. Someone a little more superstitious might say they were all tiny warning signs or something—hints of things to come. Desperate little waves from the universe to “turn back now, Noelle!” and “Halt! I know you think it’s only right that you go tonight, and I know it’s been fifteen years, but trust us when we say it’ll be shower-of-arrows levels of deflating and you’re far better off turning around now and spending two days’ wages in that little drive-through Krispy Kreme and eating several dozen all the way home.” But despite myself, I was optimistic. Totally sick with a belly full of nervous eels, yes, of course, but I was hopeful. Even a little excited. To see my old college again—the place we spent two whole years, before we all turned eighteen and went off out into the world. I’d see old classmates grown up, old classrooms, the cafeteria in which we ate greasy chips and countless rubbery baked potatoes. I’d finally get to read the letter Daisy wrote to me before she died, too, and collect her camera; her final gorgeous moments captured safely on the film inside. Plus, I might see Ed again. We’d talk. Maybe even get a drink together, talk about where we went wrong—where we went to shit.

Snow flurries faster against the windshield of my car now, like an upturned snow globe. We haven’t moved for ages. I’m not sure how long it’s been exactly, but it’s been long enough to send a text to Mum to tell her I’m stuck in traffic before my phone died in my hand, and long enough to read Daisy’s letter under the lemon-syrup glow of my car’s interior light. There’s been plenty of time to cry, too, and so much so I’ve had to blow my nose on the neon-green microfiber cloth we keep in the glove box to demist the windows, hoping no other drivers witnessed it. It was seeing Daisy’s handwriting that did it—the tiny Cs for the dots on the Is like new moons—and hearing her lively, smiling, almost musical voice in my head as I read. The little jokes. The mention of the red thread—a quote she’d read in a book and talked dreamily about for weeks. And seeing it all in black and white: everything I haven’t done.

Behind me, a driver beeps their horn pointlessly, causing someone else to do the same. As if it’ll help, as if it’ll even have the slightest influence on the lines and lines of bumper-to-bumper traffic. A hot surge of panic bubbles up inside me. I swallow it down.

Surely we’ll be moving again soon. There must be hundreds of us here on the dual highway—thousands even, all with homes and places and people to get to. They won’t leave us here for long before clearing or sorting whatever’s causing this, will they? The taillights of the car in front of me go out, as if answering, “Yes. Yes, they will, actually, Noelle,” and again, like fizz in the neck of a bottle, the panic rises in my chest. I turn up the radio.

The camera wasn’t there. That’s something that hasn’t helped with the tears situation, either, the fact that Daisy’s camera full of twenty-four undeveloped photos wasn’t there in the time capsule. And granted, lots of things weren’t there tonight, including half of the attendees who’d sent in their RSVPs for the reunion, the photographer from the local paper, and the barbecue and beer tents the college had advertised. The snow and traffic had thwarted everything. But I know Daisy had put her camera in her plastic envelope along with her letter before it was buried all those years ago, and I’d known just from the weight of it when they handed it to me tonight, that it wasn’t inside.

“I’m afraid we haven’t unburied everything, because of the weather,” the new head of history said, sleeves rolled up, her cheeks a flustered cranberry red. “A lot of envelopes are in this time capsule, but the rest are in the other one, which is still in the ground and will be until we reschedule the reunion, unfortunately.” The hall behind me echoed and chattered with disappointed ex-students catching up with old friends with plastic cups of cheap wine, condensing lifetimes into ten-minute anecdotes, flapping about the weather, about canceled trains, about what a shame it was that the night had been ruined by snow.

“I know. It’s just—the camera was in here,” I said. “Inside this envelope.”

“I see,” the woman said. “As I said, it could be in the other vessel.” She handed me a pen and clipboard then. “If you leave your details here, we’ll let you know when we reschedule the event. And if we find anything.” And that was it—a scribble squashed on the bottom of a wonky register of names, before someone in a high-vis jacket pushed to the front to say they were going to close the doors in ten minutes. And it was then, turning away, heart sagging, my letter and Daisy’s envelope in my hand, that I saw Ed. Twenty-six and a half months since we broke up—since he got on that plane to America and flew almost five thousand miles away from me—there he was. Mere meters away in the college lobby, among bewildered ex-students and chattering voices, golden-skinned and bright-eyed and fresh in that intangible way people are after coming home again. New experiences and new places written all over them, a sheen on their skin. And he saw me immediately. Our eyes stuck like glue. And… nothing. Not a nod. Not even a tiny, awkward smile—just a frozen, icy moment before he turned and the automatic doors swallowed him up. Twelve years of memories together, of Sunday roasts and Christmases and mini breaks and watching me bleach my stomach hairs, and I wasn’t even worth a smile you’d toss a stranger in a supermarket, apparently. God. Beyond depressing. Doughnuts. I should’ve chosen the bloody doughnuts.

Snow relentlessly tumbles outside, and as if synchronized, the sea of orange brake lights illuminating the slushy road ahead starts to go out one by one, like blown flames. Drivers giving up, engines killed.

A tune now,” says the DJ on the radio, “to warm us all up. And what a swizz we can never have this at Christmas, eh, because it really is coming down out there.

And he’s right. It is. Snow. Proper bloody thick, settling snow. And there is my phone, dead beside me, a black mirror on the passenger seat. No way of being able to pass the time scrolling on Instagram or Twitter, or replying to my friend Charlie’s text about Ed (“the man is a colossal prick, Noelle. A spineless little dweeb”), no way of dissecting it like two cut-price detectives, the whole non-exchange. And of course, no way of calling Mum—calling anyone for that matter. I try the charger cord again. Of course nothing happens.

I let out a pointless “Shiiiiiiiiiit!” and cover my damp, hot face with my hands. A Harry Styles song plays on the radio—something about strawberries on a summer evening—and I could laugh at the irony of it, the temperature gauge at minus-five staring brazenly back at me, cars bumper-to-bumper on the road ahead, iced like buns. I can’t be stuck here. I can’t. Mum. What will I do about Mum if I’m stuck here for longer than an hour or two?

It takes twenty tense minutes for the traffic sign ahead to light up its cheery Broadway letters to spell M4 CLOSED. MAJOR DELAYS, two minutes for the tears to start again (and for the demisting cloth to enter stage right again), and another five minutes before there’s a rap of knuckles on my passenger window.
This reading group guide for Eight Perfect Hours provides an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Lia Louis. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

While returning from a disappointing college reunion and finding herself caught in an immovable traffic jam caused by a snowstorm, Noelle Butterby meets Sam Attwood. Sam is a handsome American stranger, trapped on the motorway in a nearby car, and they share eight perfect hours together where they talk about everything and nothing, and truly click more than they have with anyone for a long, long time. When the traffic clears and they go back to their normal lives, Noelle still thinks of Sam often. Then, she runs into him again. And again. What unfolds is a sweeping, heartwarming story about two people, and the turns of events—whether it be fate or happenstance—that bring us to right where we’re meant to be.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Soon after the beginning of the novel, we learn that Noelle’s friend, Daisy, has passed away. How does the vibrant tone of Daisy’s letter and the quick realization that this woman is no longer living serve to frame the story?

2. Noelle describes Sam as “someone calm and steady. The sort of person that’d fare well in an apocalypse” (pg. 37). How does Noelle’s initial impression of Sam hold up over the course of the novel? To what extent is it true and to what extent is it a front that Sam puts on?

3. Noelle notices that if everything that went wrong that day in the snowstorm hadn’t happened, she and Sam may not have met. Do you think this is a random string of events with a happy accident? Or fate? How does the theme of chance versus destiny continue to play out over the course of the book?

4. At the beginning of the novel, Noelle’s life—her job cleaning houses, staying close to home to be with her mum, worrying about paying the bills—feels claustrophobic. Much of it seems like something she’s stuck with, not something she would have dreamed for herself. Do you think Noelle’s initial fascination with Sam in Oregon is a way she can escape from the mundanity of her life

5. We learn that Noelle has a love of growing flowers and creating flower arrangements for the people she works for, and that being a florist is a career that she has dreamed of but won’t let herself explore. Why do you think Noelle is so drawn to flowers? How would being a florist help connect her with others and live a bigger life?

6. Noelle tells us she initially didn’t give her number to Sam because he would just be one more person to miss. Over the course of the story, we also learn that she misses Ed, Daisy, and her dad. How does this loss of the people who could have been huge figures in her life inform the way Noelle interacts with the world and how she meets new people?

7. When we hear Ed update Noelle on his family, she notes that his description is “career and achievement focused. No information on how they actually are” (pg. 98). How does this distinction between what people achieve with their careers and how they’re actually doing show up in other places in the novel?

8. Ed accuses Noelle of not living her life for herself, but living it all for other people. Do you think this is a flaw or a gift? Does it hold her back? Or does it make her who she is?

9. So much of Noelle’s time seems to be spent remembering the past. She tells us that “I hate that Daisy is stuck in time. I hate that she will forever be eighteen” (pg. 153). Do you think some part of Noelle got stuck at that age too?

10. When Noelle and Sam discuss the way they lived life after dealing with the deaths of people close to them when they were younger, Sam says he was afraid to stop living and we know that Noelle is afraid to live too much. What do you think of these different reactions to dealing with loss? Do you have any experience with tending toward one or the other?

11. Sam’s dad, Frank, tells Noelle that Sam likes her and that, “He changes, when you’re around . . . Opens up. Sticks around. Makes plans” (pg. 279). Do you think that meeting the right person can make you change how you behave? Does being around someone who complements you so well alter how you interact with the world overall?

12. In the novel, people like Daisy, Charlie, and Ian are as much family as anyone biologically related to Noelle. What is the novel saying about chosen family and the lifelong connections we make with those who cross our paths?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. This book has been compared to other popular love stories like One Day in December, Evvie Drake Starts Over, and The Two Lives of Lydia Bird. Discuss how this novel is similar to those other books in the same literary space and how it differentiates itself.

2. Discuss something good that has happened in your own lives and some of the events that had to happen to lead up to it. Discuss with each member of the group whether they believe chance or fate brought them to where they are now.

3. The characters in Eight Perfect Hours are so vibrant that you could easily imagine their story played out on the screen. Who would be your dream cast for the characters in the book?

A Conversation with Lia Louis

Q: Why did you choose to start the book with Daisy’s time capsule letter to Noelle? What about that letter helps sets the stage for what’s to come?

A: Firstly, I wanted a way to introduce the reader to Daisy, which was always going to be quite difficult to do, given that she’s no longer alive, so I thought the letter really allowed Daisy’s voice and character to come through. And secondly, it was important to show a snapshot of everything Noelle wanted for herself, back then, so the reader can see just how far she’s slowly fallen from those things and how far she feels from that hopeful, zest-for-life version of her past-self when we join her in the present day.

Q: There is so much in this book about fate versus chance and the story seems to come down on the side of fate. Do you, personally, believe that fate and destiny are guiding forces in our lives?

A: The reason I wrote Eight Perfect Hours is because I am so interested in fate versus choice, and I thought it might help me explore that in my own mind, and “pick a side” so to speak! However, instead of picking a side, I’ve grown to believe there are some things in life that are meant to be—things too spooky to be coincidences, things that feel right, and you can’t quite put your finger on why, and perhaps we’ll never understand how it works or what is out there. I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I do believe in fate. But I also believe life is in our hands too. (See! Still haven’t picked a side!)

Q: Were any of the events in the book inspired by things that happened to you or to someone else in real life?

A: Not really, although there have been small things that have happened in my life that I did bear in mind while writing. My boyfriend and I, for example, lived hundreds of miles apart when we were children, but we “missed” each other numerous times before we met. I was offered a place at the college he went to (if I’d gone, we’d have met then) but I turned it down, and we went to a couple of the same concerts and had no idea we were in the same room because back then, we were strangers. I love those sorts of stories, and always have! I like stories that make this huge, wide world feel small and all of us, somehow interconnected.

Q: This story is told as a first-person narrative from Noelle’s point of view. What made you choose this perspective rather than, say, a third-person narrative that showed multiple perspectives? Why was this structure important for the story you wanted to tell?

A: I always toy with different points of view before I write, but this was one of those things that came so naturally, that I almost couldn’t choose another path. Noelle’s voice came so naturally to me, I felt like she was in my head. I also really wanted the reader to feel and understand Noelle’s journey, so when things did start to work out for her, and she started to take control of her own life, there would be a sense of satisfaction and like the reader was taking every step with her.

Q: Your previous novel, Dear Emmie Blue, is also beloved by readers and also touches on the themes of love, friendship, and finding oneself. In what ways did your past writing help inspire this story? And, conversely, in what ways did writing this book differ in your process from writing past novels?

A: I think my favorite part of Emmie’s story in Dear Emmie Blue was Emmie’s own personal journey. Thinking that the strength she needed was outside of herself, and learning it was within her all along. I definitely put that into Eight Perfect Hours, and not just with Noelle, but with her mother, Charlie, and also Sam to a degree.

As for how it differed—I found the opening chapters in the traffic jam really hard to nail. I drafted so many, many versions of them and edited them a lot, more than I’ve ever edited anything, and I think it’s because with Emmie, the relationships with all of the other characters were already established when the book opened. They had years of memories to share, and they were familiar with each other and knew everything about each other. But with the opening of Eight Perfect Hours, Noelle and Sam are not only strangers to the reader, but also to each other, so it was really difficult establishing them on the page, while showing them getting to know each other without it being boring or sounding like a job interview!

Q: Do you have any favorite books, movies, or tv shows that helped inspire you as you were writing Eight Perfect Hours?

A: One of my favorite movies in the whole world is Serendipity and I was definitely inspired by the notion of fate in that story. When I was a teenager, I watched it over and over again and couldn’t pass a secondhand book store without thinking of John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale!

Q: The Chinese proverb about the red thread appears at the beginning of the book and throughout the story as something Daisy mentions in her letter to Noelle. What does the story of the red thread mean to you? Why did you want to include it?

A: I saw that proverb online quite serendipitously! I knew I wanted to write about two strangers who met in a traffic jam but had absolutely no idea what to do with it—I walked around with two people meet in traffic and spend eight perfect hours together, then. . . for such a long time, and just needed something else to complete the puzzle. One day I was browsing Pinterest, and I saw the quote and knew it was my missing piece. I love quotes, and find the wisdom in ancient proverbs like this one so comforting. Something about wise minds speaking such wisdom, way way way before I even came to be, grounds me, and I find the notion of a red thread connecting us to those we’re destined to meet, the ultimate comfort.

Q: The passage that reads: “It’s a warm, new autumnal day, the sky is the color of the ocean, the clouds above, feathered at the edges like swirls of cream in coffee” (pg. 203) is particularly beautiful, as is so much of your writing about the world around Noelle. Why was is important to you to set the scene like this and to describe her surroundings in such vivid detail?

A: Thank you so much! I think firstly, it helps really paint a cinematic scene in the reader’s mind and that is so important to me—to really set a vivid, colorful picture for the person reading and giving them the best possible experience while they’re in the pages. Also, I think Noelle, as a character, would notice things like this. Her world is quite small and she has learned on her journey, to count her blessings. I think if you feel lucky to be here on this earth, regardless of whether you wish things were different, you tend to notice the little things we so often miss.

Q: Throughout the story, Noelle helps her friends and family deal with difficult times they’re going through (especially her mum and Charlie) and they, in turn, help her in really meaningful ways. What do friends and family mean to you? Did your close relationships help inform the depiction of family—chosen or biological—in the story?

A: Definitely. Being surrounded by those who make me feel like it’s totally OK to be myself and who I am, flaws and all, is very important to me, in life and in my writing life too. I’m introverted, I like my own home, I’m not a party girl or the sort to be out too late, and for a long time, I felt I had to pretend to be other things in order to keep friends. Then I learned that if I had to pretend to be a certain way to be loved or respected, it wasn’t real. I now have a circle of people I surround myself with that I can be totally myself around and they’re a lifebuoy for me, each and every one of them. I often write about people after their guards have crumbled, and when that happens, I write about people who stay despite it. It’s a reminder I think to myself, and I hope, others, that it’s OK to be vulnerable in life. Because the people who love you will stay.

Q: Do you have a next project in mind? If so, can you share anything about it?

A: I do! I’m writing it at the moment and I think it’s my favorite idea so far. I adore all of my books equally, but this one has the spark of something special. All I can tell you at the moment is that it features a train station piano, a mystery, and a gorgeous surfer.
Photograph by Patrick Harboun

Lia Louis lives in the United Kingdom with her partner and three young children. Before raising a family, she worked as a freelance copywriter and proofreader. She was the 2015 winner of Elle magazine’s annual writing competition and has been a contributor for Bloomsbury’s Writers’ and Artists’ blog for aspiring writers. She is the author of Somewhere Close to HappyDear Emmie Blue, and Eight Perfect Hours.

"Depending on your reading speed, “Eight Perfect Hours” also might describe the time you spend with this novel . . . a poignant rom-com about two strangers and the power of fate."

– The Washington Post, "Best feel-good books of 2021"

"Oh, what a joy this book is! Lia Louis is such a talent. It's a beautiful, intricately woven story, so romantic and so charming. I loved Noelle immediately, with her kindness and her patience and her rescued supermarket flowers."

– Beth O'Leary, internationally bestselling author of THE ROAD TRIP

"Delightful. A gorgeous, romantic tale about fate and second chances."

– Sophie Cousens, New York Times bestselling author of THIS TIME NEXT YEAR

"The sweetest, most romantic, most heartwarming book."

– Marian Keyes, internationally bestselling author of GROWN UPS

"Eight perfect hours of escapist, romantic, life affirming bliss." 

– Gillian McAllister, internationally bestselling author of HOW TO DISAPPEAR

"Louis (Dear Emmie Blue) fills this sweet romance with twists of fate and rich emotional considerations . . . Witty moments and a delightful supporting cast . . . Fans of clean contemporary romances will find plenty to enjoy."

– Publishers Weekly

A USA Today Best Winter RomCom Read

More books from this author: Lia Louis