Love Life by Ray Kluun

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Love Life by Ray Kluun

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Whilst his wife faces death Dan consoles himself with the nightlife of Amsterdam and Miami. It's sexually explicit, frighteningly truthful and is bound to make you cry. Just have the Kleenex handy!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Pan
ISBN: 978-0330447072

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Dan and Carmen seem to have everything. They both have their own successful companies, wealth, a great social life, wonderful holidays and Luna, their one-year-old daughter. Carmen has something else too.

She has breast cancer and her chances of surviving for long are very, very low.

Within weeks their lives become a round of hospitals, chemotherapy, doctors (some better than others) and radiation treatment. Dan accompanies Carmen to her chemo sessions and on the face of it he's the most devoted husband Carmen could wish for, but by night Dan throws himself into the nightlife of Amsterdam and Miami. He's monophobic - there is no way that one woman is ever going to be enough for him, even as beautiful and engaging as Carmen once was, or as sick as she is now. He's not even very fussy about his partners. Sex is pretty much all that Dan thinks about, apart from football.

There's a complication, though. Dan meets Rose and he does the unthinkable. He has an affair. Affairs are different to casual sex as they involve the mind and heart as well as the body. Despite his infidelities Dan has always loved Carmen but he realises that as her hair fell out, as she had a breast amputated, lost weight and any interest in a sex life, what he felt for her now was pity. Rose is young, healthy and loves Dan. She's what he needs to get him through this.

Ray Kluun was a marketing man (just like Dan) and his 36-year-old wife died of breast cancer in 2001 leaving him with a three-year-old daughter. Whilst his wife was terminally ill he began an affair with the woman who is now his wife. This might be a work of fiction but there's an awful lot of autobiography in there and he says himself that "Dan's feelings and frustrations are mine". This is the real strength of the book. All the detail is there in its awful clarity and the roller-coaster of emotions is laid out for all to see. There's the fact that even the most dreadful situation can, without warning, degenerate into slapstick comedy. There were times when I had tears running down my face and sometimes I laughed out loud on the same page.

There is a lot of sex but given that Dan the hedonist lived for it there wouldn't have been much of a book without some graphic depictions. Despite his infidelities, despite the fact that his nights out were the focus of his week, I liked Dan. He matured (even if he didn't really change all that much) as Carmen's illness progressed, but the person who stars is Carmen. She's brave and feisty and determined to enjoy life right up to the end. You can't help but want the best for her. There's a good supporting cast of characters all well-rounded. Kluun says that some individual doctors, surgeons and other healers might well recognise themselves in some of the characters. He adds that not all of them are going to be delighted. This could well be an understatement and is certainly a departure from the normal protestation that all the characters in a book are purely fictional. All the hospitals, restaurants, bars and clubs mentioned in the book do exist.

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands and it's an option that Carmen has to consider and there's a lot about it that, as Dan says, you don't find out from the websites. I couldn't help but see how much control it leaves with the patient in a situation which must otherwise be terrifying.

I defy you not to cry when you read this book. I would imagine that it's just about impossible unless you have a heart of stone. Love Life has been compared to Erich Segal's Love Story and both books have the same predictability but there's more to Love Life which lacks the saccharine sweetness and is more honest about reactions to terminal illness.

My thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

If you're interested in the way that people deal with terminal illness you might also like to read Louise Dean's Becoming Strangers.

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Magda said:

Honestly, I would have to read it to see if it's actually possible to like such an utter bastard (and that refers to the affair, NOT the casual sex).

Unless his wife knew and approved?

Sue replied:

I was surprised myself, Magda. I expected to hate him, but the story is told with a brutal honesty and no cloying self-justification. It brought home to me that whilst the patient in a terminal illness has got hold of the shitty end of the stick those around them have to find a way of coping with the situation too. Dan does and without giving too much away, he does it brilliantly.

marianne.bokma said:

Note from Holland. Just read Love Life. First you will hate Dan but at the end of it You'll Love Him. A happy reader from Holland

isolde73 said:

I didn't like Dan at the end, but I did like the book. Read it and love it, I promise!

lindafriday said:

if anyone's ever dealth with the gripping shit that is cancer, you'll realise this was the brutal honesty of love at its core..wept uncontrollably till the bitter end - brilliant!

katypoly said:

this bookd touched me far more than a story of love by Segal. the last one I think is more suitable for scolars. but the love life is something real, something touching. the reality is the most important factor that made my cry. I was crying in the end. because it took me one evening to read a book, but the author lived in this hell for more than a year....

i admire his love of life! its he who loved life! in stead of running away, having better life than he had, he cleaned after her, looked at her dead eyes for more than a year...