Lovesong by Alex Miller; a story within a story

Lovesong is a beautifully written love story, that is not only about love and family, but is also about the art of story telling. 

Ken has recently returned to his life in suburban Melbourne following a trip to Venice. His wife has recently passed away, he has retired from his life as a fiction writer and his 38 year old daughter has moved in with him following her separation from her husband. In short, Ken is feeling lost and having difficulty adjusting to his new life.

Upon his return he notices a new bakery in the local area, and he soon becomes fascinated with the family that runs it, particularly the beautiful woman with the sad eyes behind the counter. He soon strikes up a relationship with her husband John Patterner, who begins to tell Ken his life story.

The bulk of Lovesong is Ken's account of John's tale of how he met and fell in love with his wife Sahiba in Paris many years ago. Their love story revolves Sahiba's urgent desire to start a family, but her inability to fall pregnant. In the end, she commits a horrible act of betrayal in order to achieve her desires.

The simplicity of this story is beautiful. The prose is simple and bare and the story explores the essence of love.

But there are really two aspects to this heartfelt novel.

First there is the love story between John and Sahiba. Through this story Miller not only explores the essence of love; he also explores the reality of growing old and starting a family. He looks at questions of fidelity and fertility and solitariness within a relationship.

Then there is the story within a story - a story about the act of storytelling itself. Ken becomes drawn into John and Sahiba's love story, until his story becomes entwined with theres'. He also becomes struck with the desire to write their story, despite it not being their story to tell. The ethics of storytelling are thus explored as Ken still determines to write John and Sahiba's story in his own words.

My only reservation about the book was the character of Sahiba. I wanted to like her, and initially I did. In the end though, I felt like her selfishness so surpassed any good qualities that I become somewhat depressed by her. She wanted something so badly, that she was completely unable to appreciate what she had, and was willing to put it all at risk for her own needs. I can't even imagine the pain of being unable to have children, but I cannot use that to justify her behaviour. In the end, I only felt a sense of dissatisfaction at the outcome of their love story.

Having said that, I loved this book.  I cannot remember another book where I have so easily been drawn into and along with the story. The prose makes you feel as if you are floating peacefully down a river. The quality of the story and the writing is remarkable and I can't recommend this story highly enough.

Summary

What kind of read is this?
A simple but meaningful read.

Do I recommend this book?
Very much so, to everyone.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
I am definitely glad that I won it, but I think that this might be one of those books that you could probably read from the library and then decide if you love it enough to purchase.


Star Rating

7.5 / 8

Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Everyone should read it  - it is amazing!


Alex Miller is an an Australian author that (sadly) I didn't know much about before this years Miles Franklin Award and the controversy that Miller stirred up with his comments about the disparity of funding between what should be Australia's premier literary award and newly created awards such as the Prime Ministers Literary Award. I have written more about this controversy here if you are interested in some interesting discussion in the Australian literary world.

Have you ever read this book? I would love to know what you think of it. Does the story appeal to you? How do you feel about a love story that doesn't just focus on a happy outcome, but explores the innermost desires of people and how those desires have the potential to thwart their love?

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