|Ten Things I've Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: A touching, lyrical story that refuses to be put down until the end, making you want to believe that miracles happen as easily as synaesthesia. Pass the tissues?|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 292||Date: January 2013|
Alice returns home to spend time with her dying father. She's been travelling in Mongolia, finding temporary escape from the issues that had haunted her life in London but now, on her return, events bring the pain she thought was behind her into sharp focus. Meanwhile Daniel is an elderly vagrant who calls the streets of London home. He seeks his lost child, leaving a trail of random items across the city in the hope of reunion like someone occupying a verse of Eleanor Rigby. Disparate lives, seeking love and acceptance in a world that seems to exclude it.
In this, Sarah Butler's wonderful debut novel, Daniel and Alice are our companions throughout the book. They each narrate chapters in turn, being as different in voice as in personality. Daniel is written with a respect and dignity that, unfortunately, few would afford someone in his position. He allows us a closeness that means we journey almost in his mind, seeing things through his eyes. He's as much tour guide as tramp, showing us a London that isn't portrayed as anything but friendly and multi-faceted. He doesn't speak to us though; each thought and action is for his lost daughter whom he's never even met.
Alice, on the other hand, has always had to fight her older sisters for her father's affection. On her return this feeling is reinforced as she doesn't feel aligned with either hyper-efficient Cee or more homely Tilly. She builds herself an emotional wall, regretting the death of her relationship with 'ex' Kali as she prepares to mourn her father. We therefore walk beside her almost at arm's length in contrast to Daniel's openness.
If you'd rather simply read than psychologically profile, you too are catered for; this novel delivers on both fronts. It's beautiful with poetic (and not too flowery or arty) writing that encourages our imaginations to fuse with the story.
Its title comes from one of the lists starting each chapter, invoked by that chapter's narrator; simple lists finishing with an emotive ambush. Out of context they seem harmless, but in context… There are also exquisite set pieces, like Daniel writing a letter for his friend Anton to send to his daughter with all the feelings that engenders for both of them. Waterproof mascara would be advisable. However, Sarah writes in a way that makes us read greedily rather than be repulsed by waves of poignancy.
As we gradually learn more, twists materialise from our accumulated knowledge. However there comes a stage where the future directions of each of our heroes seems clear but this doesn't matter as, by then, we're rooting for Daniel, Alice and their respective outcomes. We're also shown that nothing should be taken for granted and that this clarity doesn't guarantee certainty.
London is an area in which the author spent years as a writer in residence, a place that not only hosted Sarah but also numerous Daniels and Alices. This is her homage to London and, if the place was a person, this is the sort of homage that would make it justifiably proud.
If this appeals, then we heartily recommend This Is How It Ends by Kathleen MacMahon.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ten Things I've Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Ten Things I've Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler at Amazon.com.
Ten Things I've Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler is in the Top Ten General Fiction Books of 2013.
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