A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This is a collection of life-affirming stories about couples who met and fell in love. So you know the endings already. Or do you? There is nothing predictable here. The storytelling is inspired, at once poetic and real. The style is deceptively simple and the themes are international. Love is old and young. Love breaks through borders. This jewel of a book will make you cry for joy and yearn for more.
I was doing so well with that blurb, but the last line really set my teeth on edge. However I bravely rose above its sentimental nonsense and carried on, and all the more so as I really loved Valmorbida’s wonderful novel, The Winding Stick, which I reviewed for Vulpes Libris last year. She’s a great writer.
However, in this case, I do think her undoubted writing skills and marvellously quirky and humane voice are not seen at their best here. All the time I was reading, I felt very unsettled, and I think it’s because the stories she tells are true ones and not direct products of her own imagination even though the writing is very good indeed; as a result the strength of her narrative voice is clouded and indeed feels crushed as Valmorbida tries to allow the voice of the various people in this collection to sing for themselves. It simply doesn’t work, and is surely a lesson to every fiction writer that the only stories we can really tell are our own.
That said, there are some particularly powerful high points but, interestingly, as many of these were poignant as well as happy moments: I appreciated the power of Diletta’s story in She was dear, and how she connects that to her father’s unhappiness; the lesbian relationship in Two interiors is very strong and clear (though sadly that’s the only GLBT content in the book); The chanter is a charming vignette of two opposites who make their affair work with kindness and generosity; in The Closure of a couplet, a tale of two poets, the final villanelle makes it all marvellously worthwhile; and Just right, the closing story, showed with great poignancy how love carries on even after death. It made me cry, but in a good way, so perhaps there’s hope for me yet.
On the other hand, there are failures within the book. I really disliked the photographs that are scattered between the stories and didn’t at all see the point of any of them, particularly as they’re in black and white and not very well produced. It would have been better if they’d been at the very least in colour, but even better than that if they hadn’t been there at all. I also thought that the long-running story, New York, London, that crops up four times as the very irritating and incredibly pretentious couple in it develop their relationship across the miles, was a mistake. And neither did I like the italic font it was written in (to show the letter format) – it’s very wearing on the eyes, but actually I did skip it after a while, so that became less of a problem for me. Surely that particular pair must be more normal and down-to-earth than their letters make them seem? One would hope so. There were also other people here who didn’t come over very well or whom I personally couldn’t take to, but I do understand these people are real (or is it all some kind of amusing literary joke? Who can really tell …?) so one doesn’t want to name too many names.
In conclusion, if this is indeed a collection of true stories about love, then it is I freely admit a brave and interesting experiment, and all the more so as its view of happiness is very broad and also balanced with the concept of pain. But, perhaps for that reason, it didn’t make me feel particularly happy and neither did it, for me, gel fully together as a collection, though others will naturally think differently. Many do! Even more worryingly however, it undermines the talent of this author which is a great shame and I hope Valmorbida’s next offering will see us back in her fascinating and off-beat fictional world once again. If so, I’ll definitely be reading it.
Happy Reads Rating: 5 out of 10. So-so.
The Book of Happy Endings, Cyan Books 2007, ISBN: 978 1 905736 03 4
[Despite rumour, Anne does enjoy a happy ending, but feels that on occasion there can be an excess of them. To discover more about her own view of endings, please click here.]