I had the pleasure of hearing Rose Tremain read from her new novel “The Gustav Sonata” at a special event at Waterstones Piccadilly several weeks ago. The section she read and her writing in general has a wonderful way of drawing you into the lives/experiences of her characters so I was eager to read this new novel – especially since I loved her previous book “The American Lover” which is a collection of short stories. It’s admirable how Tremain never sticks to writing about any one particular genre, subject matter, time period or area of the world. Her books span from historical novels set in the court of Charles II to the mid-1800s New Zealand gold rush to stories about migrant works in modern London. “The Gustav Sonata” primarily takes place in pre and post-WWII Switzerland (with a later leap to the more recent past). Given its location it gives an interesting slant on the war and the meaning of neutrality by focusing on the lives of two different families affected by the greater conflict. It’s a deeply immersive story about loyalty during times of conflict, ambition, betrayal and family strife that made me stay up late at night longing to read more.

The novel centres around a Swiss boy named Gustav whose single mother Emilie struggles to make ends meet while working in an Emmental cheese factory. His father Erich died at an early age, but was once an assistant police chief during the tense period in the lead up to the war. In 1948, a six year old Gustav befriends a new Jewish boy named Anton at school. Emilie resents her son’s companion because she blames their diminished circumstances on the influx of Jewish refugees. It’s not difficult to see how these embittered isolationist feelings still resonate today in current political opinions. Despite his mother’s objections, Gustav and Anton form a special bond which continues throughout their lives. Questions raised about how Emilie got to this difficult point are answered in the second part of the novel which moves back to 1937 to recount her tumultuous marriage with Erich. The third part of the book then skips far forward to the end of the 20th century to show how dilemmas about his family and his country’s past still resonate for Gustav in his later years.

Tremain skilfully raises many difficult questions about what happens to political allegiance, social responsibility and moral conscience when put under the pressure of warfare. Being only a boy during WWII, it takes Gustav a lifetime to untangle the truth and meaning of the decisions his parents and their friends took at the time. It’s remarked how “Europe is at war. Fairness is now becoming a word without meaning.” There is no balanced view when embroiled in the fear and terror of this conflict. When looking at specific actions from a historical point of view, it’s easy to judge what was right and wrong. But when facing conflict in the present when you’re aware of different negative outcomes no matter what decision you make, the choice is not always so clear. By moving backwards and forwards in time through different parts of this novel, Tremain artfully shows the true nightmarish dilemma faced by ordinary people caught in a large-scale battle.

I also greatly appreciated the dynamic view of transforming sexuality represented in the personal lives of her characters. Throughout their entire adult lives all of the characters find their desire changes which also transforms their points of view. Lottie, the wife of Erich’s friend Roger, is a particularly fascinating character who finds herself drawn to the forbidden and struggles to express her sexuality within the narrow confines of society. Also, there’s a particularly memorable and disturbing section where a mentally-disturbed young neighbour attempts to sexually abuse Gustav when he’s still a boy. Although this character and his actions are reprehensible, he is still treated in a balanced way as he is evidently a victim of shock treatment and other damaging medical therapies of the time. There is also an innocently intimate scene between Gustav and Anton as boys which is so delicately portrayed. Tremain has a tremendous ability for writing intelligently and sensitively about the ever-evolving sexuality of a broad range of characters.

A subterranean melody plays throughout Gustav’s journey in this novel. As a child Anton is an aspiring pianist and his desire for fame hangs upon him throughout his life despite his crippling performance anxiety. He frequently plays Beethoven and other composers to Gustav. It’s extraordinary how I started to almost hear this music playing as I progressed in reading the novel. Like great works of music, “The Gustav Sonata” has a subtly transformative effect saying what can’t be overtly stated by using a juxtaposition of characters, place and images. It also made me salivate to try Emilie’s favourite desert Nusstorte! This is an exceptionally beautiful and accomplished novel.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesRose Tremain
2 CommentsPost a comment

Sometimes real happiness can only be found through a radical process of self reinvention. It takes a considerable amount of courage to move to a new country on your own, leave behind everything that’s been familiar or change your name to become another person. “Sergio Y” is powerful novel about how some people aren’t able to really be themselves or fulfil their potential within the family, community or even the body that they were born into. It’s about the extensive lengths some must go to and the hardships they must endure to fully inhabit the life they were meant to live. This novel is also a compelling mystery whose story becomes more and more intriguing with every new bit of information its obsessive narrator tracks down. 

There can be something really powerful in a good tale told in a simple direct prose style. “Sergio Y” is narrated in short sections by a seventy year old therapist named Armando about incidents surrounding his client Sergio Yacoubian. Armando boasts that he is one of the most respected doctors in São Paulo, but Sergio's case haunted him for many years and became something of an obsession. Sergio came to see him as a teenager troubled by a sadness he didn't understand. After months of sessions in which they discussed his life, particularly his great-grandfather's emigration to Brazil where he escaped the massacres which occurred during the Turkish war in the early 20th century, Sergio alighted upon a path towards happiness. He moved to New York City and went through the process of transitioning from male to female. However, Armando wasn’t aware of the fact Sergio was transgendered when he treated him. Consumed with guilt about a case he didn’t fully understand, Armando investigates what happened to Sandra by speaking to her family, American therapist and her troubled neighbour. Gradually he comes to a better understanding of what it means to seek real happiness in life.

Although this novel has a deeply tragic element to it, it’s admirable how Porto makes of the story something ultimately hopeful. He shows that strength of will and determination can triumph over circumstance. Here he movingly describes the state of mind required to initiate radical change: "Many manage to improve on the first drafts of the lives they are given. But for that they need the courage to jump off a diving board fifty meters high, blindfolded, not knowing if it is water or asphalt that awaits them below." This novel is also a sympathetic and refreshing portrait a transgender individual. Even though I read about an equally compelling transgender character in Jenni Fagan’s recent novel "The Sunlight Pilgrims" it still feels as if dynamic and interesting characters that were born with the wrong gender don’t often appear in many books. I would love to see more novels where transgender characters appear where their transition isn't necessarily treated as an "issue" but a simple fact. This is something I believe "Sergio Y" somewhat achieves because Sandra herself doesn't struggle with her transition process; it's the doctor who must come to terms with it. It was a great pleasure reading this emotional and fascinating new novel.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
3 CommentsPost a comment

There’s a special pleasure in finding something another reader has left in a used book. While reading you might come across a train ticket, a receipt or a passage in the text that’s been emphatically underlined. Suddenly you find yourself connected to an unknown reader from some period in the past. If you have a curious and imaginative mind you might wonder if the previous owner read this book while on a busy journey or alone in a study. Did she/he finish it? What did she/he think about it? It’s a unique feeling of connectedness that’s entirely different from the enjoyment of cracking open a pristine new book. “The Sacred Combe” is a family saga told not by immersing the reader in specific stories about different generations, but providing flashes from their lives which have been left in their enormous library. The narrator and the reader of this novel must piece together their story from what scraps of personal information different family members have left within the books that they read.

The central story of Thomas Maloney’s compelling debut novel features an undeniably alluring job for any serious book lover. Banker Samuel Browne turns to reading for comfort and to take his mind off from the collapse of his personal life when his wife suddenly leaves him. He tackles Edward Gibbon’s multi-volume enormous text “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” and finds within it a cryptic advertisement to volunteer in someone’s private library. When his brief phone application for the job is accepted he leaves his London life for a rural northern location. Here he meets an elderly man named Arnold Comberbache who presides over Combe Hall, a 230 year old collection of books which is “one of the finest private libraries in the country.” A vital personal letter has been hidden somewhere in this library by Arnold’s ancestor Hartley. Thomas is charged with searching through each book one by one. Along the way, he unravels the fascinating history of the Comberbache family by discovering notes written in the books’ margins, letters tucked between the pages or intriguing references to significant events. He also has the pleasure of nosing through a plethora of rare and unusual books!

During his patient search, Samuel meets the remaining people who are associated with the historic hall such as the punctilious housekeeper Miss Synder or the mysterious young scarred artist Rose who help fill in missing details not found in the texts. He also explores the large estate which includes many hidden curiosities such as a special temple in the forest built to appreciate light and the movement of celestial bodies. Samuel’s complete immersion in the story of this family which is entangled with a mystery about one of the great poet’s of the age provides a way for him to escape the desolation of his marriage and start anew. It’s an escape into a meditative space. It is observed how “When the cordons of habit are withdrawn, the unruly forces of the mind strike out in new directions. Our own thoughts can seem almost as unfamiliar to us as our new surroundings: reason itself begins to turn in our grasp.” In the alien environment of Comberbache family’s historic abode, Samuel gains a valuable perspective about what he wants in life and finds himself unexpectedly entangled in the family’s complex narrative.

Maloney does well to avoid any clichéd resolutions to the novel. Instead he creates an intriguing conclusion which can be interpreted in different ways. This book isn’t about neat resolutions, but a process of discovery. There are moments when the story about the family becomes somewhat convoluted – especially because many of the Comberbaches have the same first names (something Arnold himself admits is confusing for archivists). But patient readers will be rewarded with a complex puzzle to uncover scandalous events involving opium, infidelity and plagiarism. “The Sacred Combe” is a cleverly-structured moving meditation for anyone who isn’t sure what step they should next take in life. It’s a richly immersive bibliophile’s fantasy. Appropriately for its subject matter, this novel also has a gorgeously designed cover itself.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesThomas Maloney
2 CommentsPost a comment

To what degree do labels like mother, father, daughter or son define us? Ideally different relatives will take on different nurturing roles for their family members in times of need. Traditionally it's the mother who is expected to perpetually care and nourish her family. In Deborah Levy's novel “Hot Milk” the mother-daughter roles are reversed. Twenty-five year old Sofia moves with her mother Rose to the desert landscape and jellyfish-laden beaches of Andalucía in southern Spain. Rose has chronic problems with her feet and can barely walk, but these symptoms might be fantasized. Sofia takes out a substantial loan to get her mother treatment in the Gomez Clinic run by an exuberant doctor with questionable credentials and his artistic daughter who he calls Nurse Sunshine. While relations with her mother become strained, Sofia embarks on two separate affairs with an attractive man named Juan and a formidable German woman named Ingrid. She also travels to Greece to meet her estranged father who has married a woman forty years younger than him and given birth to her new baby sister. In this story Levy creates a challenging and fascinating view of families whose constantly shifting dynamics both support and destroy each other. 

Sofia's engaging, funny and perceptive voice brings this story to life. She trained as an anthropologist but her career has only consisted of working at a coffee house. The novel starts with her dropping her laptop. Now that the image of the universe used as the background on her screen has shattered, her view of her life and those around her becomes fragmented. The tone of her narrative fluctuates between comic moments such as when she contemplates a cartoon character's personality: “Is Donald Duck a child or a hormonal teenager or an immature adult? Or is he all of those things at the same time, like I probably am? Does he ever weep? What effect does rain have on his mood?” and deeply-moving starkly-metaphorical statements such as “My love for my mother is like an axe. It cuts very deep.” She sees the world from a really interesting point of view that made me think differently about ways in which we are perceived and how we perceive others.

I admire the way Sofia's fluid sexuality plays out in the novel. She engages in passionate sexual relationships with a woman and man with equal force stating “Ingrid and Juan. He is masculine and she if feminine but, like a deep perfume, the notes cut into each other and mingle.” Her relationships with them are more determined by their personalities. Her affair with Juan is casual and comforting whereas she finds her affair with Ingrid (who is also in a relationship with a man named Matthew) to be more tumultuous and energizing. In a strikingly symbolic scene Ingrid kills a snake with an axe as if demolishing the need for any man's presence in their lives.  

Although many people find her beautiful and seductive, Sofia views herself as something of a monster who swims with jellyfish in the sea (locally known as medusas). At several points in the novel the narrative breaks from Sophia's point of view to short statements from someone who is steadily observing her from a distance. Sophia is conscious of steadily gaining weight and her mother makes her feel ashamed about this: “It is true that I have shape-shifted from thin to various other sizes all my life. My mother’s words are my mirror. My laptop is my veil of shame. I hide in it all the time.” Negative self-perception is also reflected back at her in how Ingrid views her “She wanted to behead her desire for me. Her own desire felt monstrous to her. She had made of me the monster she felt herself to be.” These relationships make a compelling view of the way that women can sometimes sadly demean each other. Also, by focusing on the importance and power of women's relationships to each other she annihilates the notion that a woman's most important relationships are with men: “Neither a god nor my father is the major plot in my own life. I am anti the major plots.”

Images of milk and motherhood abound throughout the novel which gives its title a steadily increasing power. It's suggested that she go to visit a statue of the Virgen del Rosario that “is made from a delicate marble that is the colour of mother’s milk.” At another point she contemplates “Is home where the raw milk is?” Dr Gomez has a cat named Jodo who gives birth to kittens which eagerly feed from their mother in a scene that makes powerful statements about the meaning of nurturing. Sophia watches her young step-mother feed her infant sister from her breast in a way that makes her emphatically stand apart from any traditional notion of engaging with motherhood herself. Instead, she defiantly declares her physical being as separate from that course in life: “I was flesh thirst desire dust blood lips cracking feet blistered knees skinned hips bruised, but I was so happy not to be napping on a sofa under a blanket with an older man by my side and a baby on my lap.”

One of the most powerful lines in the novel comes amidst Sophia's anthropological musings about the power of signs in our culture. She questions the degree to which individuals fit into the common symbols for male or female as seen in signs for public toilets. Subsequently she wonders about the labels in family life: “A wife can be a mother to her husband, and a son can be a husband or a mother to his mother, and a daughter can be a sister or a mother to her mother, who can be a father and a mother to her daughter, which is probably why we are all lurking in each other's sign.” There is something beautifully freeing in this statement that we don't need to feel trapped as any one kind of thing in how we relate to our family members. Our ways of being come out of how our unique familial situation exists at any one point, not out of predefined roles which we must play.

"the tentacles of the jellyfish resemble the hair of the Medusa, which in pictures is always a tangled mess of writhing snakes."

"the tentacles of the jellyfish resemble the hair of the Medusa, which in pictures is always a tangled mess of writhing snakes."

It's interesting thinking about “Hot Milk” in relation to Elizabeth McKenzie's recent novel “The Portable Veblen”. Both centre on women with distinctly original points of view who have difficult hypochondriac mothers that they feel compelled to care for. They each come from different story angles to show how we can grow into different relationships with our parents, that we can move freely between being nurtured and nurturing. However, McKenzie focuses more strongly on the development of a sustainable balanced romantic partnership where Levy's novel is concerned more with developing a substantial individual sense of self outside of society's expectations.

I think “Hot Milk” will continue to have a subconscious effect on me in the future. You know how sometimes you'll recall a scene or character or original point of view from a novel many years after you've read it? There are aspects of “Hot Milk” which I can already feel echoing through me. Deborah Levy has a powerful use of imagery which unsettles in a way that is welcome because it helps broaden my perspective. It's a fantastic, distinctly powerful novel.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesDeborah Levy
6 CommentsPost a comment

If you need any other proof that new Irish fiction is going through a particularly exciting period, look at the Desmond Elliot Prize shortlist. Gavin McCrea and Lisa McInerney are two of the most exciting debut authors I’ve read in recent years. Since I first read it a year ago, I’ve brought up Mrs Engels many times on this blog and on social media. You know what I’ve said about it so here is what the prize’s Chair of judges Iain Pears says about McCrea’s novel:

“McCrea has cleverly included just enough historical detail to set a very evocative scene, then lets his cast tell the story. The writing always surprises, his characters are compelling without having to be likeable and, as all of we judges noted, Mrs Engels is perhaps the most feminist novel we read for the Prize.”

That’s an interesting final thought considering McCrea was one of only three men out of the ten authors on the Desmond Elliot Prize longlist!

Lisa McInerney's novel is a powerfully-written and sweeping tale of modern day Cork that includes people who aren’t often portrayed in fiction. It’s also recently been shortlisted for this year's Baileys Prize for Fiction.

Pears said: “It is no surprise that not one but two major literary prizes have noticed McInerney’s talent. She gives us strong, complex working-class characters with real emotional hinterlands, and plays with the reader’s emotions in an extraordinarily sophisticated way.”

Also included in this shortlist of three is Julia Rochester’s striking novel about family secrets. It’s a novel that also made the Baileys Prize for Fiction longlist.

Pears said: “Rochester’s writing is quite wonderful – she is particularly strong on her sense of place. She brings the landscape to life just as she does her characters. We all felt we were with them at key points in the book.”

Click on the titles below for my full reviews about each of these novels.

Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester

The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 22 June, where he or she will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson

Books are an important physical presence around anyone who feels reading is a major part of living. I can spend a lot of time just gazing at my shelves wondering what I should read or reread next or simply enjoying the company of my books. Of course, no book was created in isolation but produced by someone who was influenced by reading countless other books. The traditional hub for many great writers to discover books that inspire and inform them has been the library. This year The London Library which is the world's largest independent library with more than a million books and periodicals in its collection is turning 175 years old. “On Reading, Writing and Living with Books” is a compact collection of pieces by great writers such as Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, EM Foster and the poet Leigh Hunt – all of whom were active members of The London Library. They contemplate the experience of being committed writers and readers who share the same wonder, joy and excitement we all feel when staring at a shelf filled with books.  

It's surprising how relevant some of the arguments and questions raised in these pieces still feel today. I suppose this is because the experience of being an enthusiastic reader never changes. George Eliot muses upon the profession of writing in her essay 'Authorship' and how writing for a living can cause someone to compromise their vision and morals due to commercial pressure. She considers the cultural impact of great writing against the degree to which its valued by society. These feel like the same arguments that are made in current articles on how authors are woefully underpaid. Virginia Woolf addresses the issue of criticism and urges readers to come to books with no preconceived notions or expectations about the text: “Do not dictate to your author; try to become him.” In her typically ingenious way she meditates upon the interplay between the physical world around us, the imaginative world the author places us in and how these intermingle.

Charles Dickens' letter to George Eliot is filled with praise for her first publication “Scenes of Clerical Life” yet he shows himself to be incredibly astute guessing in a friendly manner that she is not male as her pen names suggests but female (something which was not publicly known at the time). Leigh Hunt contemplates his passion for the books around him, the manner in which books are consumed and how they are a touchstone to the past. He shows a certain snobbishness about different kinds of literature and how access to books is connected with privilege (this was certainly true when he was alive in the mid-1800s.) In a way all book lovers can relate to, he goes through some of his prize possessions on his bookshelves developing a fetishism for the beauty of certain books. He also covets the books other readers' possess remarking: “I cannot see a work that interests me on another person's shelf, without a wish to carry it off.”

EM Forster wrote his piece about The London Library itself at a time directly before WWII when he was aware of how precarious books and the inheritance of knowledge was in the face of rampant destruction. In this bleak time he ardently remarked about the library that “It is a symbol of civilization. It is a reminder of sanity and a promise of sanity to come.” It's comforting to know that The London Library is still thriving. This week from May 5th-8th to celebrate their 175 year a number of readings and events called Words in the Square are taking place.

This book is a fantastic touchstone for readers and lovers of literary culture exploring from different angles the way literature plays an active part of daily life. It makes a wonderful companion to Ali Smith's recent book of stories and collection of testaments about the importance of libraries Public Library. In the preface to each piece in “On Reading, Writing and Living with Books” there is a short fascinating paragraph about each author's relationship with The London Library – for instance, when Virginia Woolf joined she gave her occupation as “Spinster”. These pieces reinforce how important the library was for these writers and this anthology is a wonderful celebration of our literary culture.

Apocalyptic visions of the future usually brim with dramatic conflict amidst large-scale destruction in society. Jenni Fagan takes a much more soft-treading and realistic approach to representing probable outcomes of climate change in her novel “The Sunlight Pilgrims” where a group of characters hole up in a Scottish caravan park for the onslaught of a cataclysmically cold winter in the year 2020. Rather than any explosive end to civilization, it seems much more likely that in the future life will still continue much as it does now until the effects of rising global sea levels make an unavoidable difference to our daily lives. Here it’s represented by a slow-moving iceberg making its way to the British Isles. Meanwhile many huddle within the commercial comfort of IKEA hoping that it’s not really happening. Amidst this coming crises, a fascinatingly unique group of characters at the margins of society deal with their own personal struggles while preparing for the coming of another Ice Age.

Central to the story is the beautifully realized character of Stella, an eleven year old who was biologically born a boy named Cael. Stella has been ostracized from the social groups she so recently enjoyed easy companionship with. She finds it particularly painful that a silence now exists between her and an attractive boy named Lewis who once kissed her. He bows to the peer pressure from his friends who mock and attack Stella for being transgendered while secretly still harbouring feelings for her. Stella also faces institutional challenges from a doctor who refuses to prescribe much-needed medication to block the hormones which are causing her to grow into a male with emerging facial hair and a deepening voice. Nor will he speed up a referral to a specialist who would hopefully be more sympathetic to her condition. This causes her internal anguish being trapped in the wrong body where “she feels like sprinting away from herself.”

Luckily Stella’s mother Constance rallies to her daughter’s support and fights for the justice that the vulnerable child isn’t able to insist upon herself. It’s touching how she exhibits total love for her daughter while struggling with private feelings of mourning for the son she has lost. It is also lucky that she’s strikingly capable in matters of survival ensuring that her family and those close to them are well prepared from the impending potentially lethal freeze. She’s someone that has been relegated to the margins of the community due to her unashamedly non-monogamous love affairs – for many years she maintained a simultaneous relationship with two men.

The mother and daughter meet a new neighbour in the park named Dylan who recently moved from London after the death of his beloved mother and grandmother. They left him a trailer in this remote village of Clachan Fells which he’s had to retreat to after the closure of the family-owned London arts cinema where he was raised. Dylan muses frequently upon his bohemian upbringing and the strong, compelling women who raised him. His grandmother Gunn MacRae won the cinema in a poker game when she was younger and maintained a bracingly liberal attitude towards sex stating in one dream-sequence: “always have a lover on the side or you might as well be dead.” Poring over things left by Gunn and his mother Vivienne, Dylan gradually discovers that his familial links to this little community are more complex than he first realized.

"Fronds of ice have all blown in one direction, creating feathers"

"Fronds of ice have all blown in one direction, creating feathers"

Fagan's writing has a remarkably poetic quality when she describes scenes of tremendous emotional conflict. In one of the most striking and emotional moments in the novel Dylan climbs up a mountain during particularly foggy weather. Troubled by his grief and memories his body seems to disintegrate into the haze. There follows a remarkable fluidity between the internal and external landscape which I found so beautifully moving and effective. Paired with these lyrically-charged passages, Fagan is equally skilful at writing punchy dialogue which brings life to the characters and grounds the narrative in realistic scenes.

“The Sunlight Pilgrims” is a beautifully written and chilling vision of the future with refreshingly original characters.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesJenni Fagan

Most love stories traditionally focus on the dramatic heights of romance or bitter breakups through betrayal. “The Course of Love” focuses instead on the interstices between dramatic events in a long-term relationship, those feelings and uncertainties that aren’t mentioned when a couple summarizes the story of their life together at a dinner party. It’s in these unspoken moments where we really live in relationships and where we thrive or falter as a couple. We can only really understand what committing to a relationship means when we look at the quiet unglamorous struggles which take place between couples in daily life. This is the story of Rabih and Kirsten who meet, marry and become parents. Spliced in between their tale are sympathetic ideas about the challenges found in all relationships and how the reality of love doesn’t often match idealistic notions about the story of romance. This makes Alain de Botton’s novel a highly unconventional read, but it is nonetheless intensely felt and deeply meaningful.

It’s skilful how de Botton manages to be rigorously thoughtful in his analytical commentary about what this couple are experiencing in their relationship without detracting from the believability of Rabih and Kirsten’s struggle. There’s an old edict in the school of story telling that you should show and not tell and Alain de Botton does a lot of telling in italicised pauses within the story, yet he does so in a way that smoothly integrates with the conflicts played out through the couple’s actions. I felt engaged by instances like the loss of each of their parents, the heat of their arguments and the passion of their sensual encounters. Their story is unique, yet many of the issues they face are universal. The novel primarily focuses on Rabih’s perspective while also rigorously including Kirsten’s point of view. One of the most touching moments is when Rabih’s comes to a hard realization that he is “anxious to the core, in his most basic make-up: a frightened, ill-adjusted creature.” Instead of annihilating his sense of sense, this confession of vulnerability allows him to awaken to the reality of love.

"Both equally aware that it would be a genuine waste of time to stand in an aisle at IKEA and argue at length about something as petty as which glasses they should buy (when life is so brief and its real imperatives so huge)"

"Both equally aware that it would be a genuine waste of time to stand in an aisle at IKEA and argue at length about something as petty as which glasses they should buy (when life is so brief and its real imperatives so huge)"

The author adeptly touches upon feelings which everyone has in relationships, but which we’re afraid to discuss because they might besmirch the enchantment of romance. Instead of seeking a resolution for conflicts like friends who don’t get along with our partners, insecurities caused from past experience, a diminishing sex life, the challenge of child rearing, professional disappointment and infidelity, the author embraces the messiness of these issues to offer surprising and controversial perspectives on how to navigate through them. This is meant as a corrective critique to traditional stories of romance as Rabih finds “the versions of love presented in films and novels so seldom match what he now knows from lived experience.” Instead of giving us a romance with a resolution this novel gives us a meditation upon its unwieldy and often perverse shape. The title takes on a double meaning as the story explores what the longevity of love means, but the book also provides an education on why contradictory impulses might guide the evolution of our relationships. I found this novel a fascinating read which spoke to me personally in many different ways.

Posted
AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesAlain de Botton
3 CommentsPost a comment