The Romantic Paperback – Mar 20 2007
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Obsessive love. It's the subject W. Somerset Maugham wrestled to the ground from the male perspective many decades ago in Of Human Bondage. In her fourth novel, The Romantic, Barbara Gowdy explores the female version of this relentless emotion, and she captures as well as Maugham the clawing claustrophobia that such an obsession can taint a life with. It's a state of mind well-suited to Gowdy's strange talent for creating isolated, eccentric characters with disturbing emotional lives. (Who could forget the necrophiliac undertaker's assistant who stars in her short story "Kissed"?)
Gowdy's heroine, Louise Kirk, falls hopelessly in love with her childhood playmate Abel Richter, after--and maybe because of--her mother's sudden decampment from the family when Louise is just nine. On the outskirts of Toronto in the early '60s, Louise and Abel roam a hidden ravine together, examining plants and animals and eventually each other with an odd mixture of lust and idealism. Abel, an adopted boy living with German immigrant parents, suffers the same outsider status Louise feels, and he should be the perfect companion for her, except for his singular notion that one's destiny in life can best be achieved in "complete isolation," which locks her out and drives her mad. He loves her, but in much the same way as he loves the stars and Bach and a wounded baby bat. When she finds herself pregnant, Louise behaves very badly and perhaps sets Abel on the self-destructive path that will end in his early death.
The deliberate flatness of Gowdy's style plays against the subject matter of thwarted passion, usually to good effect, although on occasion it becomes too flat to sustain the reader's interest. But then she will drop in striking metaphors that pull you back. Near the end of his life, when Louise is finally managing to get her feelings of unrequited love under control, she says, "I imagine holding my hand a few inches above a boulder. It's twilight, summer, growing cool. The boulder gives off the heat of the day. My love for Abel is like the heat between the boulder and the falling night. That feeling, or that place." Lovely. --Bronwyn Drainie --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
In her previous novels (The White Bone; Mr. Sandman; etc), Gowdy's imagination blazed new trails, melding bizarre characters into memorable situations. This novel is as beautifully written as its predecessors, but more traditional than the Canadian writer's usual fiction. She examines the mysteries of love and its absence in two damaged children whose adult lives remain shadowed by their early experiences. In the early 1960s in Toronto, when she is 10, narrator Louise Kirk falls in love with a new neighbor boy named Abelard, the adopted son of the Richter family. Louise's mother, a former beauty queen who said things like, "Nobody would believe you're my daughter," abandoned Louise and her passive father a year ago, and Louise prays that the Richters will adopt her, too. Louise has oceans of love to lavish and focuses all her psychic and emotional energy on Abel, who can't bear the weight of it because he is more fragile than she is. She remains obsessed with Abel even after his family moves away, and on the night he briefly reappears, when she is in high school, she conceives his child. But the curious, tender boy she knew has become an alcoholic, taking refuge in Rimbaud and determined to end his life. The narrative moves back and forth in time, spinning out the story of the doomed relationship. Each of the characters, even minor ones, has a unique voice and a vivid, quirky personality. Louise's need to have Abel create the world for her resonates with unfulfilled passion. In reining in her imagination to the limits of a conventional love story, Gowdy has produced her most haunting and sensitive novel to date.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
The main characters are human, and Gowdy shows them as such. They each have moments of brilliance and moments of failure and many places in between. At the end, you may not agree with them, but it is impossible not to love them like your own friends and family members.
The narrative is from Louise's perspective, and from chapter to chapter she switches from past to present. Some readers may find this jarring, but I found it to be surprisingly cohesive due to Gowdy's skill at bringing the reader back and forth without confusion. The changes in time add to the book's suspense, and with every flash back or forward in time, the reader is left wanting to find out what happened next, reading on more and more urgently to find out.
The Romantic has restored my faith that the art of the novel is still alive and well and living on your local bookstore's shelves. Any serious reader would be hard pressed not to love this book.
We are thrown into a story that moves back and forward in time to reveal itself. The structure of the book creates occasional confusion, because shifts in time are not indicated by tense - we are caught in a disorienting perpetual present. As much as this is a criticism, though, it does effectively evoke the sense of suspension that occurs when one's love endures unrequited.
It's a masterful accomplishment to be able to convey the absence of something rather than its presence, as is the ability to explore heartache while skillfully avoiding melodrama. Gowdy accomplishes this through humour, but more profoundly by touching a nerve, the one that knows we've all been there, wanting, in one way or another.
This story, beautifully and intricately woven, shows love stripped down to all of its most brutal forms, then gently and unexpectedly tossed to us to digest. The Romantic is an understanding of human behaviour and emotion not often seen, let alone expressed.
During its highs and lows it gives hope and inspiration even dealing with the depths of the very darkest hours. Often taboo subjects come at us head on, but we are shown how to understand and empathize.
Anyone who enjoys confronting humanity and all the emotional upheaval that rides with that will applaud this work.
Ms. Gowdy's talent is full and complete. I loved her use of tone and romance. Her characters are fully developed - and she handles loss with such grace and talent. I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone. Really amazing read!
Most recent customer reviews
This non-linear, unconventional love story kept me intrigued from start to finish. The author's beautiful descriptions of characters made me fall deep into the story and although... Read morePublished 5 months ago by Sarah Thom
A splendid book that touches the heart and soul. Barbara Gowdy is a genius when it comes to working her literary magic.Published on June 15 2013 by Donna Kay Cindy Kakonge
On the contrary to the novel's title, the Romantic isn't your typical happily ever after romance as it tells the tragic love story of Louise and Abel. Read morePublished on June 4 2007 by Jian Zhao
This novel was so beautifully written and so hauntingly real that I have had to read it several times over the past few years. Read morePublished on June 15 2006 by Brown Sugar