CategoryMandery Evan

Sunday Salon: Ten Love Stories

I’ve been reading Marry Me, Dan Rhodes’s new collection of flash fiction on the theme of marriage. This being Rhodes, all is not exactly sweetness and light: in many of these stories, a male narrator is treated shabbily by his female partner – or occasionally he’s the one behaving shabbily himself – in absurd and darkly amusing ways.

‘Is there someone else?’ asks one man as his wife leaves him. ‘No,’ she replies, ‘there isn’t. But I would really, really like there to be’. Another woman informs her husband that he’ll have to leave, then produces a catalogue and sells him pots and pans for his new home (‘I would give you a discount because I know you, but it’s early days and I’m sure you’ll understand that I’ve got to keep a firm grip on my finances now I’m a single gal’). And so on, and so on, with these wonderfully barbed and pithy lines.

But, just occasionally. there are touches of real romance, as with the couple who put the lump of charcoal he gave her in lieu of a diamond under their mattress in the hope that pressure may transform it. The result: ‘it never looks any different. I think we would be a bit disappointed if it ever did.’ Moments like this bring light to the book, which ends up being quite sweet, in its own deliciously sour way.

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As it’s nearly Valentine’s Day, I decided to go back through my blog archives and see how many love stories I’ve reviewed over the years. My instinct was that it wouldn’t be that many, but (allowing for my subjective interpretation), I’ve come up with a list of nine more books to add to the one above, which is more than I expected. Here they are – but I’m not necessarily promising happy endings…

Viola di Grado, 70% Acrylic 30% Wool (reviewed Jan 2013)

A girl struggling to move on from her father’s death may have found a way forward when she meets a local boy who teaches her Chinese – if she can let herself move forward, that is. I really enjoyed this book, but it might as much an anti-love story as a love story.

Evan Mandery, Q: a Love Story (reviewed Sept 2012)

This must be a love story, because it says so in the title, right? Well, maybe not, as its protagonist receives repeated visits from his future self, trying to persuade him to call off his relationships. But the ending is actually rather affecting.

Alice Zeniter, Take This Man (reviewed May 2012)

A fine portrait of complex circumstances, as a young French-Algerian woman prepares to marry her Malian childhood friend in a bit to prevent his deportation. Not so much a tale of ‘will they?won’t they?’ as ‘should they? shouldn’t they?’.

Henry Green, Loving (reviewed Jan 2012)

A tale of love and contested space in a wartime country house. It begins and ends with the words of a fairytale, but that kind of happiness is a long way from being guaranteed.

Robert Shearman, Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical (reviewed Aug 2011)

An excellent set of stories examining love in its various manifestations.

Alison MacLeod, Fifteen Modern Tales of Attraction (reviewed July 2011)

Another fine set of stories about love.

Daniel Glattauer, Love Virtually (reviewed Feb 2011)

A novel told through two people’s emails; their correspondence becomes a form of courtship dance. Will they or won’t they? I don’t know without reading the sequel.

Priya Basil, The Obscure Logic of the Heart (reviewed June 2010)

A non-religious boy from a wealthy Kenyan Sikh family and a girl from a devout Birmingham Muslim family fall in love – and the complexities of their situation are very nicely delineated in the book.

Ronan O’Brien, Confessions of a Fallen Angel (reviewed Aug 2009)

The story of a young man who has apparently prophetic dreams of people’s deaths. I include it here for its wonderful portrait of falling in love twice, in two different ways – the dizzy rush of first love, and a slower flowering of affection later on in life.

Book notes: Terry Pratchett and Evan Mandery

Terry Pratchett, Dodger (2012)

Terry Pratchett visits Victorian London for his latest book. Dodger, a young sewer scavenger, sees a girl escaping from a coach and saves her from being beaten by the two men she was travelling with. This incident is witnessed by Charles Dickens, ‘Charlie’, who becomes a friend to Dodger, and social reformer Henry Mayhew, who shelters Simplicity, as the girl comes to be known. Several events increase Dodger’s notoriety, including his exposing the truth about Sweeney Todd, and he finds himself moving in loftier circles. He also discovers that there are people after Simplicity and an ingenious plan is needed to thwart them – an ideal job for someone like Dodger…

Pratchett brings the atmosphere of his London to life, conveying not just the difficulties faced by his characters through poverty, but also the ways they might survive (or not – his portrayal of Sweeney Todd as a damaged individual is especially vivid). The plot of Dodger doesn’t quite succeed: the antagonists remain too shadowy to have a full dramatic impact. But running through the novel are themes of pragmatism and appearances being deceptive, and here Dodger shines. Charlie understands that Dodger may be able to investigate events in ways which are valuable but not open to others. Dodger himself sees the manoeuvres of politics as not being much different from those of the street. And deceptive appearances are the foundation of the plan to save Simplicity, which gives Pratchett’s novel its fine finale.

(This review also appears at We Love This Book.)

Some other reviews of Dodger: Things Mean a Lot; Simon Appleby for Bookgeeks.

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Evan Mandery, Q: A Love Story (2011)

An (unnamed) New York academic and writer meets one Quentina Elizabeth Deveril (also known as Q), and promptly falls in love. The pair of them start dating, and find they’re just right for each other. Wedding bells look set to chime… until our man receives a note from himself, asking him to meet for a meal. He goes there, to find his sixty-year-old self, who has apparently travelled back in time to warn the younger him against marrying Q. The two of them, his future self says, will have a son who dies young from an inherited illness, and that will destroy Q. The protagonist decides to call the wedding off, and moves on with his life – but different future selves keep coming back in time to dispense their advice.

Q is Evan Mandery’s third novel; perhaps the first thing one notices is that it’s written in a rather mannered way that pushes it to one side of reality. This technique leads to some fine comic moments, such as the narrator’s and Q’s date on a bizarre miniature golf course, or the time they go on a protest march against a construction project, dressed in vegetable costumes. It also gives the protagonist’s exchanges with his older selves an effectively deadpan tone. But the same style sometimes leaves events without a full emotional grounding – sometimes Q reads too much like a joke.

The narrative thread of Q is full of digressions on subjects ranging from Sigmund Freud’s study of eels to The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; these illustrate the book’s theme of what-ifs and alternatives. As time goes on, our narrator has cause to reflect on what’s important, in life and history; Mandery shows how the most important things are not always what we think they are at the time. The main plot runs like a whirlpool, as the visitations from time travellers become more and more frequent, and the novel heads ever closer to absurdity – until the ending, which is pitched just right, and is really quite affecting.

Any Cop?: Mandery’s style walks the line between annoying and charming, and doesn’t always stay on the right side. But, once you get into the swing of Q, it works. It’s worth a look.

(This review also appears at Bookmunch.)

Some other reviews of Q: A Case for Books; Glorified Love Letters; Raging Bibliomania.

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