Hector and the Secrets of Love by Francois Lelord

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Hector and the Secrets of Love by Francois Lelord
Buy Hector and the Secrets of Love from Amazon.co.uk

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Genre: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Something I didn't expect - a very pleasant, engaging and breezy plot with a lot of love (and it's opposite).
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 978-1906040338

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Professor Cormorant has gone AWOL. Tasked with developing drugs to cure a lot of ills, by making us fall in love, he has fled with his secrets, his prototypes, and a few samples that may or may not be dangerous. It is down to Hector, a psychiatrist, to chase him down, work out where Cormorant is in his researches, and if possible help bring the trade secrets back to the company his girlfriend, and now himself, works for. With the exotic far East his destination, a partner left behind, and time on his hand to muse on the subject of love, will Hector find more than just a bunch of chemicals in a syringe?

I have to admit this appeared one of the least appealing books the reviewing gods have thrust upon me. A novel all about love, with pointed things to say on the subject, written by a psychiatrist? It smacked of being something awful - a wishy Jostein Gaarder-style philosophical perambulation, perhaps, or, at the other end of the spectrum, something pretentious and ill-formed like Heartbreak, the latest Craig Raine.

Whatever the approach, I thought, love as a subject would be forced down our throats, with arch examples of it being loaded into the plot. But this was not what I got. Yes love is here in countless aspects, but it hits the thinking, the storylines, the reality of the characters in purely natural ways. Hector, as a psychiatrist, does get to peruse the topic mentally, and make notes for papers to come, but so in a way does the narrator, when he isn't postulating on many other things he's describing.

What's more, the number of twists, cliffhangers and other surprises shows this is a novel first and foremost. It touches on a thriller with some omnipotent and omnipresent characters, almost. It seldom leaves a useful character behind, bringing them back when we least expect them - and nor does it leave us behind. The plot, the characters, and even the philosophy of love, all take us through these small pages to the end most satisfactorily.

Love, then, is a diaphanous concept - a multi-edged sword, a coin with more than two sides. Begun with chemical switches in the brain - or in this fiction, in a test-tube - it is never fully measurable, remains elusive, and defies all explanation. Lelord does not try to define it, in the end - his tale's conclusion is just right in its element of being open-ended. But he does manage to convincingly, realistically and most entertainingly put copious examples of it into his novel, and I can't remember many more books that have proved my first assumptions so wrong. Here is an engaging, breezy and witty approach to a philosophical aspect of our life. It comes over as a little bit cloying when thought of as part of a franchise - the one before had Hector seeking happiness, and there's two more yet to be translated into English, but this works as a stand-alone joy.

More accessible than Adam Phillips, more playful even than Alain de Botton - these secrets are quite lovely in their discovery.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

For a pure non-fiction and biological side to a similar aspect of life, we loved Why Women Have Sex, by Meston and Buss.

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