Ah l’amour. It really has to be one of my favourite themes in fiction. Perhaps the reason why we’re all so obsessed with it, is that despite all its mystery and complexity, it’s the thing that connects us most as human beings? I couldn’t have felt that more chatting to our fantastic guest on Are You Sitting Comfortably this month, author of Conversations on Love, Natasha Lunn. Amongst many wisdoms within her book, I suppose one of things that struck me was not only the importance of friendship but also the power of words. There have been so many times I’ve felt truly connected to something I’ve read, characters who have echoed thoughts or feelings, writing that has made me feel seen, words that have carried me to a different place. ‘Reading such a passage, is, I think, a form of love,’ Natasha writes. I couldn’t agree more.
With this in mind, Writers and Lovers by Lily King really stands out for me. Thirty-one-year-old Casey is reeling from the fall out of a messy love affair and the death of her mother. Debt-ridden and working as a waitress, the novel she’s been trying to write for the last six years isn’t finished and to add insult to injury, all her friends are either getting married or pregnant. Enter stage left – Silas, kind and keen. Meanwhile stage right – there’s the fascinating Oscar, a silver fox with two little boys in tow. Which love is the one? How will Casey unravel it all? Will she ever finish that book? Writers and Lovers is jam-packed with so much feeling – I loved its search for creativity and a sense of self, the longing and last days of youth but most of all, the leap of faith we make between the end of one chapter in life and the beginning of another. Casey is such a brilliant protagonist, bringing comedy as well as drama – how could she not with lines as good as this? ‘But I can’t go out with a guy who’s written eleven and a half pages in three years. That kind of thing is contagious.’
Revisiting The Camomile Lawn has made me realise just what a talent Mary Wesley was. Razor sharp with her analysis of relationships, a unique ‘devil may care’ attitude in her female characters so out of kilter with their age and time and an extraordinary ability to pinpoint feeling. If you haven’t read Harnessing Peacocks or Part of the Furniture, I can’t recommend them highly enough. However, her own fascinating life story chronicled in Patrick Marnham’s biography, Wild Mary: The Life Of Mary Wesley had me hooked. Love affairs with a Czech war hero and possibly his brother at the same time, marriages of convenience, torrid relationships, working in secret intelligence…. Honestly, Mary’s life is as thrilling and revealing as her novels themselves.
Endings and beginnings have featured heavily in this month’s reads – this next suggestion brings some humour to sugar coat any blows. What happens when you’re seven months pregnant and you discover your husband is in love with another woman? Written by Nora Ephron, screenwriter of When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, Heartburn is the story of Rachel, a cookery writer, who takes the reader on a satisfyingly witty and bittersweet journey of love, loss, betrayal and revenge, offering up some of her favourite recipes, somewhere between trying to win her husband back and wishing him dead. A modern classic in my opinion.
Reading Natasha Lunn’s wonderful interview with Dolly Alderton reminded of Dolly’s own brilliant memoir, Everything I Know About Love. It’s a hilarious and deeply personal dive into love in all its forms. A coming-of-age story of sorts, Dolly writes with wit and wisdom in equal measure as she tells of the trials and triumphs of dating and relationships, but most importantly what she’s learned about friendship.
Longlisted for the Jhalak Prize for Book of the Year by a Writer of Colour 2022, comes award-winning writer and former Guardian and Observer reporter Huma Qureshi’s Things We Do Not Tell The People We Love, a short story collection which highlights all the nuances of love and our most intimate relationships. Lovers, mothers, daughters, friends – Huma weaves her magic within themes of misunderstanding, discord, displacement, yearning, family, loneliness and secrets. From the English countryside to London and Lahore, the characters within Huma’s stories all have one thing in common, they end up revealing things about themselves they didn’t know they possessed. This is a fantastic collection which sheds light on the juxtaposition of the messiness and beauty of love.
Last but not least…because how could I not recommend one of the most stellar book releases in recent years? Sally Rooney’s Normal People – the ultimate ‘will they, won’t they’? It follows the changing landscape from teen to adulthood between two seemingly opposite characters who discover they share a profound connection – one which will impact and shape their futures. Connell and Marianne’s relationship is a masterpiece in the push and pull of love and friendship and how sometimes the ending we want is not always the ending’s that right. I still think about this one. Maybe the greatest lesson we have to learn about love is that it doesn’t stand still – it’s always changing and evolving.
For more fabulous suggestions and author insights please head to Rebecca Fletcher’s website
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