on 16 January 2015
Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. Or is it the other way around? I can never remember. The point is that we’ve been told so many times of late that men and women can’t ever hope to understand one another because we’re so different.
That’s long seemed the case in literature as well. The images of men presented in chick lit have never seemed quite rounded enough to me. Bridget Jones’ men were either perfect or complete bastards. Or your father. Serena Mackesy’s men were all fantasy men. That’s as in “objects of fantasy”, rather than men from a fantasy novel, although if you want both, Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn did quite well. But it’s not just one-way traffic. Neither Nick Hornby nor Tony Parsons have shown that they completely understand women, either.
So it was a breath of fresh air when Josie Lloyd and Emlyn Rees, a real life couple, worked together on “Come Together”. The leading male character’s thoughts were written by a man, and the leading lady’s by a woman. It seemed to work pretty well, as far as I could tell; only knowing the one viewpoint. Certainly, everyone seemed to be perfectly rounded, with their differing perspectives and their full participation in events as a whole.
Unfortunately, they then got a little overambitious with their next effort, “Come Again”, which smacked slightly of cashing in and fell some way short of the originality and genius of “Come Together”. “The Boy Next Door”, their third collaboration was a little better, but seemed a little weak compared to “Come Again”. Undeterred, they have tried once more, with “Love Lives” being their fourth effort.
Ellen has moved to Shoresby, somewhere on the South Coast of England, temporarily to film a documentary on one of the local landmarks, Lost Soul’s Point, where a number of suicides have been known to take place over the years, dating back to 1871. In doing so, she is parted from her boyfriend who is off filming in a far more exotic location in South America, and that parting is nothing new. She’s convinced she loves him, until she gets to Shoresby and runs into Ned, who is a builder working on restoring the old house which forms the backdrop to the area’s history that Ellen is keen to film. Their first meetings are not cordial, after Ned’s dog rips Ellen’s fur coat. They’re drawn to each other, but each is trying not to be for reasons of their own; Ellen because of her present, Ned because of his past.
But it’s not just the out of towners that are having trouble in their love lives either. Jimmy, a friend of the last person to commit suicide from Lost Soul’s point only a year before, is madly in love with Verity. Or, at least, he thinks he is. Not having been in love before, he’s not entirely sure if he is this time either. For her part, Verity is desperate to find someone – anyone – to be in love with, seeing as her best friend seems to have found her ideal man. Leaving Jimmy’s feelings unrequited, though, she goes for an older man, Denny.
These four prove to be the main characters and it is their “Love Lives” who we are mostly following throughout the novel. There is a supporting cast, some who get more involved in the story and others who are merely bit part characters. It’s not all about romantic love, however, as running throughout the whole novel, almost as a counterpoint to love is death; that of Jimmy’s friend Ryan, of the family who originally owned the house at Lost Soul’s Point and relatives of both Jimmy and Ned, whose deaths have a huge impact on both their lives in different ways.
The problem I have with this novel is really one I have with most stories of this genre – it’s a little too perfect to feel real. Of course, in a lot of fiction you need to be able to put your disbelief to one side and just enjoy the story. But whilst that’s easy with horror and thriller novels, where the situations are unlikely to occur, so you feel less for the characters as they don’t seem real either, here it isn’t as easy. Rees and Lloyd’s great talent is also their downfall – they create characters that seem so real they could almost be someone you know, or someone you used to be. But in tying up the situations a little too perfectly and a little too neatly, they make the whole thing seem a lot less real.
There is something not quite right about the way some of the characters behave as well. It’s as if, in much the same way that authors are unsure how to write about the opposite sex, that Lloyd and Rees have forgotten how it felt to be a teenager. Or maybe it’s me that’s forgotten. But for a teenager to be in love, rather than in lust, just doesn’t quite ring true for me, even for someone as sensitive as Jimmy seems to be. Verity’s confusion seems a little more real for a teenage girl but it is her boyfriend, Denny, who seems to be the most accurately drawn character. Whilst the adults are better drawn out characters, it is the minor characters whose actions in “love” seem more natural, rather than the major characters.
On the good side, Lloyd and Rees’ collaborations have come on a long way since their original novel. This is the first time they’ve written the whole thing as a novel, rather than splitting the different characters view into separate chapters or sections. It means the whole novel flows a little better and you get the story in a more chronological order, rather than having the same events described twice, just from different points of view. It has also allowed for more scene setting with outside characters being described more as real people, rather than just being “my friend” and/or “his/her friend”. The whole town is nicely described and whilst you don’t really get much of a map in your head, you can almost build a picture of the features – in my head it looks like a town I visited on the North Cornwall coast a couple of years ago, but everyone will have their own visualisation.
It’s a decent story, all told. The situation that brings all the characters together doesn’t seem too implausible and their reactions to things seem fairly real for most of the time. It’s only when the characters are becoming emotionally tangled that things start seeming a little too perfect and maybe a little too saccharine for real life. In their earlier novels, there was a touch of reality to the relationships in that not everything went perfectly, and that seems to be missing here. Maybe I’m just an old cynic and I’ve forgotten how it feels to be young and in love, but I just can’t quite believe in the whole thing. I can enjoy this kind of novel most of the time, but there’s something that just doesn’t sit right here, which takes the edge off this time around.
If you’re a fan of the “chick-lit” style genre in particular, this isn’t a bad example of the work by any means. Maybe a little sappy, and definitely a little predictable and unrealistic, but that’s fairly standard really. If you’re already a fan of Rees and Lloyd in particular, this is a good buy to see how their work together is evolving. If you’re new to their work, “Come Again” might be a better place to start as it’s the better story, although “Love Lives” is easier to read.
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