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The Authenticity Project: A Novel

The Authenticity Project: A Novel

by Clare Pooley

Narrated by Anna Cordell

Unabridged — 10 hours, 25 minutes

Clare Pooley

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The story of a solitary green notebook that brings together six strangers and leads to unexpected friendship, and even love

Julian Jessop, an eccentric, lonely artist and septuagenarian believes that most people aren't really honest with each other. But what if they were? And so he writes—in a plain, green journal—the truth about his own life and leaves it in his local café. It's run by the incredibly tidy and efficient Monica, who furtively adds her own entry and leaves the book in the wine bar across the street. Before long, the others who find the green notebook add the truths about their own deepest selves—and soon find each other In Real Life at Monica's Café.

The Authenticity Project's cast of characters—including Hazard, the charming addict who makes a vow to get sober; Alice, the fabulous mommy Instagrammer whose real life is a lot less perfect than it looks online; and their other new friends—is by turns quirky and funny, heartbreakingly sad and painfully true-to-life. It's a story about being brave and putting your real self forward—and finding out that it's not as scary as it seems. In fact, it looks a lot like happiness.

The Authenticity Project is just the tonic for our times that readers are clamoring for—and one they will take to their hearts and read with unabashed pleasure.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly


This wistful, humorous tale from Pooley (The Sober Diaries) follows the path of a confessional notebook that passes through the hands of several characters. When 79-year-old Julian Jessop, a withdrawn British painter, leaves a notebook in Monica’s London Café, the owner takes it upstairs to her flat. A few nights later, Monica is oppressed by chronic loneliness as she comes home to her empty apartment; she reads the opening entry of Julian’s notebook, which laments the loss of his wife and envisions a model of honest public sharing, “not on the internet, but with those real people around you.” Monica then contributes her own intimate entry, a chronicle of dissatisfaction about being 37 without a husband or children, and leaves the notebook for another stranger. Timothy Ford finds it and brings it on a trip to Thailand that he hopes will help him get sober. After reading Monica’s entry, he decides to become her “secret matchmaker” by selecting an eligible bachelor among his fellow vacationers. He chooses Riley, a 30-year-old Australian planning to visit London, and leaves the notebook in Riley’s rucksack with a note to look for her. Pooley maintains a quick, satisfying pace as the characters’ simple, spontaneous acts affect each other’s lives. This is a beautiful and illuminating story of self-creation. (Feb.)

From the Publisher

Praise for The Authenticity Project:

“The Authenticity Project is an enjoyable read that is cozy – or as its British characters would have it, cosy – in the best sense of the word.”
USA Today

“A well-suited subject for the Instagram era, this book makes you realize that no one's life is what it seems.”
Good Morning America

“A warm, charming tale about the rewards of revealing oneself, warts and all.”

"It all feels like a warm hug."
—The Washington Post

—Real Simple

“An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.”
Kirkus Reviews

“[A] wistful, humorous tale. . . a beautiful and illuminating story of self-creation.”
Publishers Weekly

“I loved The Authenticity Project. It has such an intriguing premise, wonderful characters and is utterly truthful about the lies that we all tell. It’s a clever, uplifting book that entertains and makes you think.”
—Sophie Kinsella, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Confessions of a Shopaholic

The Authenticity Project cracks the facades that people present to the world and shows what happens when you're willing to share your true self. This is a story of love, of community, of found family, and of forgiveness. A beautiful book with a poignant message, perfect for our time.”
Jill Santopolo, New York Times bestselling author of The Light We Lost

“The Authenticity Project is a rich roast of great characters, even better relationships, wonderful entanglements, and a few surprises along the way. If Monica’s Cafe were a real place, I’d stop by every day.”
Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of This Is How It Always Is

The Authenticity Project
reads like a gorgeous box of chocolates: sweet, surprising and impossible not to love.  I found myself cheering, cringing, laughing and crying as I read this book and – above all – remembering the true value of community and human connection.”
—Tara Conklin, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Romantics
“Insightful, timely, and utterly addictive, The Authenticity Project illuminates the importance of discovering - and honoring - our truest, most imperfect selves.”
—Georgia Hunter, New York Times bestselling author of We Were the Lucky Ones
“Fans of Fredrik Backman and Gail Honeyman—make room on your shelves for Clare Pooley. The Authenticity Project is a stunning debut and it left me inspired to share more of myself with the world.”
—Steven Rowley, bestselling author of The Editor
“It’s full of life’s truths, funny, poignant and ultimately uplifting. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Fanny Blake, author of A Summer Reunion
"One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Original, engaging, and unforgettable."
—Sarah Morgan, bestselling author of A Wedding in December
“It's a joyous, funny read that leaves you all warm inside.”
—Beth Morrey, author of The Love Story of Missy Carmichael
“Beautifully written, thought-provoking, and uplifting, The Authenticity Project is a warm and endearing tale about truth, friendship and the power of connection. Pooley's characters will stay with you long after you turn the final page. It was a joy to read.”
—Mike Gayle, author of The Hope Family Calendar

“A heart-warming, feel-good story about love, loss and what it means to be human. Pooley’s debut is gloriously upbeat and gorgeously readable.”
—Annabel Abbs, author of The Joyce Girl

Library Journal


When Monica finds a green notebook labeled "The Authenticity Project," left behind in a café by elderly, eccentric artist Julian Jessop, she's struck by its plea, "Everybody lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth?" So she adds her own story to the book, with others discovering it and adding more stories that eventually pull them all together in a warm and luscious embrace. Pitched big at Day of Dialog.

Kirkus Reviews

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts "The Authenticity Project"—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook's pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940172280498
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Publication date: 03/12/2022
Edition description: Unabridged

Read an Excerpt



She had tried to return the book. As soon as she realized it had been left behind, she'd picked it up and rushed after its extraordinary owner. But he'd gone. He moved surprisingly swiftly for someone so old. Maybe he really didn't want to be found.

It was a plain, pale-green exercise book, like the one Monica had carried around with her at school, filled with details of homework assignments. Her friends had covered their books with graffiti of hearts, flowers, and the names of their latest crushes, but Monica was not a doodler. She had too much respect for good stationery.

On the front cover were three words, beautifully etched in copperplate script: The Authenticity Project. In smaller writing, in the bottom corner, was the date: October 2018. Perhaps, thought Monica, there would be an address, or at least a name, on the inside so she could return it. Although it was physically unassuming, it had an air of significance about it.

She turned over the front cover. There were only a few paragraphs on the first page.

How well do you know the people who live near you? How well do they know you? Do you even know the names of your neighbors? Would you realize if they were in trouble, or hadn't left their house for days?

Everyone lies about their lives. What would happen if you shared the truth instead? The one thing that defines you, that makes everything else about you fall into place? Not on the internet, but with those real people around you?

Perhaps nothing. Or maybe telling that story would change your life, or the life of someone you've not yet met.

That's what I want to find out.

There was more on the next page, and Monica was dying to read on, but it was one of the busiest times of the day in the cafe, and she knew it was crucial not to fall behind schedule. That way madness lay. She tucked the book into the space alongside the till with the spare menus and flyers from various suppliers. She'd read it later, when she could concentrate properly.

Monica stretched out on the sofa in her apartment above the cafe, a large glass of sauvignon blanc in one hand and the abandoned exercise book in the other. The questions she'd read that morning had been niggling away at her, demanding answers. She'd spent all day talking to people, serving them coffees and cakes, chatting about the weather and the latest celebrity gossip. But when had she last told anyone anything about herself that really mattered? And what did she actually know about them, with the exception of whether they liked milk in their coffee or sugar with their tea? She opened the book to the second page.

My name is Julian Jessop. I am seventy-nine years old, and I am an artist. For the past fifty-seven years I've lived in Chelsea Studios, on the Fulham Road.

Those are the basic facts, but here is the truth: I AM LONELY.

I often go for days without talking to anyone. Sometimes, when I do have to speak (because someone's called me up about payment protection insurance, for example), I find that my voice comes out in a croak because it's curled up and died in my throat from neglect.

Age has made me invisible. I find this especially hard, because I was always looked at. Everyone knew who I was. I didn't have to introduce myself, I would just stand in a doorway while my name worked its way around the room in a chain of whispers, pursued by a number of surreptitious glances.

I used to love lingering at mirrors, and would walk slowly past shop windows, checking the cut of my jacket or the wave in my hair. Now, if my reflection sneaks up on me, I barely recognize myself. It's ironic that Mary, who would have happily accepted the inevitability of aging, died at the relatively young age of sixty, and yet I'm still here, forced to watch myself gradually crumble away.

As an artist, I watched people. I analyzed their relationships, and I noticed there is always a balance of power. One partner is more loved, and the other more loving. I had to be the most loved. I realize now that I took Mary for granted, with her ordinary, wholesome, pink-cheeked prettiness and her constant thoughtfulness and dependability. I only learned to appreciate her after she was gone.

Monica paused to turn the page and take a mouthful of wine. She wasn't sure that she liked Julian very much, although she felt rather sorry for him. She suspected he'd choose dislike over pity. She read on.

When Mary lived here, our little cottage was always filled with people. The local children ran in and out, as Mary plied them with stories, advice, fizzy pop, and Monster Munch chips. My less successful artist friends constantly turned up unannounced for dinner, along with the latest of my artist's models. Mary put on a good show of welcoming the other women, so perhaps only I noticed they were never offered chocolates with their coffee.

We were always busy. Our social life revolved around the Chelsea Arts Club, and the bistros and boutiques of the King's Road and Sloane Square. Mary worked long hours as a midwife, and I crossed the country, painting the portraits of people who thought themselves worth recording for posterity.

Every Friday evening since the late sixties, at 5:00 p.m. we'd walk into the nearby Brompton Cemetery, which, since its four corners connected Fulham, Chelsea, South Kensington, and Earl's Court, was a convenient meeting point for all our friends. We'd plan our weekend on the grave of Admiral Angus Whitewater. We didn't know the Admiral, he just happened to have an impressive horizontal slab of black marble over his last resting place, which made a great table for drinks.

In many ways, I died alongside Mary. I ignored all the telephone calls and the letters. I let the paint dry solid on the palette and, one unbearably long night, destroyed all my unfinished canvases; ripped them into multicolored streamers, then diced them into confetti with Mary's dressmaking scissors. When I did finally emerge from my cocoon, about five years later, neighbors had moved, friends had given up, my agent had written me off, and that's when I realized I had become unnoticeable. I had reverse metamorphosed from a butterfly into a caterpillar.

I still raise a glass of Mary's favorite Bailey's Irish Cream at the Admiral's grave every Friday evening, but now it's just me and the ghosts of times past.

That's my story. Please feel free to chuck it in the recycling. Or you might decide to tell your own truth in these pages and pass my little book on. Maybe you'll find it cathartic, as I did.

What happens next is up to you.




She googled him, obviously. Julian Jessop was described by Wikipedia as a portrait painter who had enjoyed a flurry of notoriety in the sixties and seventies. He'd been a student of Lucian Freud at the Slade. The two of them had, so the rumors went, traded insults (and, the implication was, women) over the years. Lucian had the advantage of much greater fame, but Julian was younger by seventeen years. Monica thought of Mary, exhausted after a long shift delivering other women's babies, wondering where her husband had gone. She sounded like a bit of a doormat, to be honest. Why hadn't she just left him? There were, she reminded herself, as she tried to do often, worse things than being single.

One of Julian's self-portraits had hung for a brief period in the National Portrait Gallery, in an exhibition titled The London School of Lucian Freud. Monica clicked on the image to enlarge it, and there he was, the man she'd seen in her cafe yesterday morning, but all smoothed out, like a raisin turned back into a grape. Julian Jessop, about thirty years old, slicked-back blond hair, razor-sharp cheekbones, slightly sneering mouth, and those penetrating blue eyes. When he'd looked at her yesterday, it had felt like he was rummaging around in her soul. A little disconcerting when you're trying to discuss the various merits of a blueberry muffin versus millionaire's shortbread.

Monica checked her watch. 4:50 p.m.

"Benji, can you hold the shop for half an hour or so?" she asked her barista. Barely pausing to wait for his nod in response, she pulled on her coat. Monica scanned the tables as she walked through the cafe, pausing to pick up a large crumb of red velvet cake from table twelve. How had that been overlooked? As she walked out onto the Fulham Road, she flicked it toward a pigeon.

Monica rarely sat on the top deck of the bus. She prided herself on her adherence to Health and Safety regulations, and climbing the stairs of a moving vehicle seemed an unnecessary risk to take. But in this instance, she needed the vantage point.

Monica watched the blue dot on Google Maps move slowly along the Fulham Road toward Chelsea Studios. The bus stopped at Fulham Broadway, then carried on toward Stamford Bridge. The huge, modern mecca of the Chelsea Football Club loomed ahead and there, in its shadow and sandwiched improbably between the two separate entrances for the home and away fans, was a tiny, perfectly formed village of studio houses and cottages, behind an innocuous wall that Monica must have walked past hundreds of times.

Grateful for once for the slow-moving traffic, Monica tried to work out which of the houses was Julian's. One stood slightly alone and looked a little worse for wear, rather like Julian himself. She'd bet the day's takings, not something to do lightly given her economic circumstances, on that being the one.

Monica jumped off at the next stop and turned almost immediately left, into Brompton Cemetery. The light was low, casting long shadows, and there was an autumnal chill to the air. The cemetery was one of Monica's favorite places—a timeless oasis of calm in the city. She loved the ornate gravestones-a last show of one-upmanship. I'll see your marble slab with its fancy biblical quotation and raise you a life-size Jesus on the cross. She loved the stone angels, many now missing vital body parts, and the old-fashioned names on the Victorian gravestones—Ethel, Mildred, Alan. When did people stop being called Alan? Come to think of it, did anyone call their baby Monica anymore? Even back in 1981 her parents had been outliers in eschewing names like Emily, Sophie, and Olivia. Monica: a dying moniker. She could picture the credits on the cinema screen: The Last of the Monicas.

As she walked briskly past the graves of the fallen soldiers and the White Russian émigrés, she could sense the sheltering wildlife—the gray squirrels, urban foxes, and the jet-black ravens—guarding the graves like the souls of the dead.

Where was the Admiral? Monica headed toward the left, looking out for an old man clutching a bottle of Bailey's Irish Cream. She wasn't, she realized, sure why. She didn't want to speak to Julian, at least not yet. She suspected that approaching him directly would run the risk of embarrassing him. She didn't want to start off on the wrong foot.

Monica headed toward the north end of the cemetery, pausing only briefly, as she always did, at the grave of Emmeline Pankhurst, to give a silent nod of thanks. She looped round at the top and was halfway back down the other side, walking along a less-used path, when she noticed a movement to her right. There, sitting (somewhat sacrilegiously) on an engraved marble tombstone, was Julian, glass in hand.

Monica walked on past, keeping her head down so as not to catch his eye. Then, as soon as he was gone, about ten minutes later, she doubled back so that she could read the words on the gravestone.



DIED 5 JUNE 1963, AGED 74






She bristled at the fact that the Admiral got several glowing adjectives after his name, whereas his wife just got a date and a space for eternity under her husband's tombstone.

Monica stood for a while, enveloped in the silence of the cemetery, imagining a group of beautiful young people, with Beatles haircuts, miniskirts, and bell-bottom trousers, arguing and joking with one another, and suddenly felt rather alone.

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