I have just read two novels that come at love and relationships from very different places, each was excellent for very different and satisfying reasons.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Text Publishing Co) is a light (but in no way slight), charming, clever and sometimes poignant tale of a man searching for love.
Professor of genetics, Don Tillman, a beautifully drawn character, much akin to The Big Bang‘s Dr Sheldon Cooper, has never been on a second date. While he is neither particularly bothered nor very interested in why this might be, he decides it is time to find himself a mate. Applying his impeccable logic and flawed social knowledge to the problem, he decides to make everything simple: he will design a questionnaire – a sixteen-page, scientifically researched document – to find the perfect partner.
As you do.
She will most definitely not be a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker or a late-arriver. Interestingly, he keeps running into Rosie Jarman – who is all these things, and also somewhat disturbing to his equilibrium, as she is strangely beguiling, fiery and intelligent. Looking for her biological father, she needs some help from somebody who knows about DNA. Is Don, who has a set-in-stone roster for dinners (lobster every Tuesday), and has organised his life so it works perfectly (for him), and disapproves of Rosie so strongly, the person to help?
Gentle screwball comedy ensues as Don gets drawn into efforts to get various parental candidates’ DNA and negotiates the bewildering world of liking another person. One moment you are cheering both Don and Rosie on, the next sighing with frustration as this clever man gets it wrong again (without even realising that there is a wrong to have got) – but not for long: there is learning, there is laughter and there is, finally, love.
Charles Dubow’s debut novel is quite different, nobody in it appears to have the practical difficulties and challenges in dealing with people and the social world that Don Tillman has, but in the end they are just as unaware, storm-tossed on great billowing waves of love, lust, betrayal and grief. With their reliance on the primacy of their own feelings and relationships with others, Dubow’s characters lay waste that which each seems to hold most dear.
Indiscretion (Blue Door) is being compared to F.Scott Fitzgerald’s
The Great Gatsby: they are both set in New York and the Hampton’s, the storied pleasure grounds of the moneyed, leisured and fabulous; and they are both narrated by an onlooker, a man watching the action of other people’s lives. And it is true, both are rather beautiful, haunted with yearning and what appears to be an unstoppable heady rush towards cataclysm.
Indiscretion is a beautifully written book, the cautionary tale of Harry and Madeleine Winslow, talented, wealthy, charming and charmed. Harry is an award-winning author on the cusp of greatness. Madeleine is a woman of sublime beauty and grace whose elemental goodness belies a privileged upbringing.
I know, you hate them already – I wasn’t that interested at first but after two or three chapters I wanted to know what happened to them and I did mostly like them, more so as you pick up the little infuriating, very human aspects of them: Dubow does a good job of looking through the narrator’s (childhood friend of Madeleine, lives next door to them, entangled in their lives, in love with her, perhaps a little in love with the whole family) clear eyes, which adds depth and interest to what is, after all, not an uncommon story.
When a holiday fling turns disastrously wrong, 26-year-old Claire falls into the Winslows’ welcoming orbit. They are enchanted by her youth and intelligence. In turn, Claire is entranced by Harry and Maddy. You know this is not likely to end well but I really enjoyed the writing and the slow inexorable slide (you want to shout “NO, DON”T DO THAT” as if you were at a pantomime) into obsession and folly and indiscretion – the reader, like the narrator, gets to be all-knowing, all-seeing, all-judging and all-wise, to experience all the drama without being burnt by the flame.