Friday, July 26, 2013

Book Review: "Ten Things I've Learnt About Love" by Sarah Butler

Alice has always felt like the black sheep of her family. Her mother died when she was four years old, and she has always felt that her father and older sisters somehow blamed her for that. In fact, she has always felt as if everyone blamed her for being born in the first place, because apparently so much changed in their lives afterward. Maybe that's why she has always been on the move, running away from home when she was a child, and traveling the world as an adult, never really settling down in one place.

She is in Mongolia when she gets the call that her father is dying, and she is able to make it home in order to say goodbye. There is sadness, regret over the things she did or didn't say or do, and a desperate need to understand why her relationship with her father was the way it was. At the same time, she is struggling over the end of her relationship with Kal, a man she thought she might marry, but who was unable to give her what she wanted most.

Daniel is a homeless man, a tramp, who wanders throughout the city of London. While it isn't the life he would have chosen for himself, he's been able to find the beauty in simply standing still and observing his surroundings, the peace of being alone with nature. He collects things he finds on his walks—bits of paper, discarded or lost jewelry, pieces of metal—and can configure them into special treasures. Daniel has synesthesia, which causes him to see letters and words as colors—certain names are pale blue, warm red, or a bright white.

While Daniel hasn't had a job or a steady place to live for many years, he is buoyed by the memories of a woman he once loved more than anything, and his dreams of being a success. But more than anything, he knows he has a daughter he has never seen or met, although he has looked for her nearly every single day of her life, and he desperately wants to find her, although he worries what she'll think if she meets him. As his health starts to fail, he is determined and anxious about finding her. As he said, "You can't miss someone you've never met. But I miss you."

Sarah Butler's wonderful debut novel isn't full of surprises—you know the story early on—but it is full of heart and beauty. It's a story of not feeling like you belong, of longing for connection, and, most of all, the need to love and be loved. Butler is a fantastic writer and this story unfolded so perfectly. Much like typical families, many things remain unsaid, but the silences and the pauses are as telling as the dialogue. I worried how she would tie up the plot and I was glad it didn't fall into any of the traps I feared it would.

I'm definitely a sap, so this book was right up my alley, but it's not sappy. It's really just a terrific book worth reading and taking into your heart.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to this review, I got the book from the library. Ten things I liked about the book.
    1. The cover/title. As in 1. Ten 2. Things etc.
    2. Each list was off a bit, as in the final item or two didn't match the category.
    3. The writing/language was a delight.
    4. Seemed to get the day-to-day physical and mental wanderings of a homeless man pretty close to what I would imagine.
    5. London is as much a character as the human ones.
    6. The theme of "gifts" and how it played out.
    7. The synesthesia.
    8. Cultural expectations of Alice's love interest as a barrier.
    9. How each chapter began with a list.
    10. The alternating point of view from chapter to chapter.