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The Love of My Life Hardcover – Unabridged, 1 Feb. 2008
‘I miss him with every breath and heartbeat. He should have been my happy ending. Instead, he is the sad beginning to my story.’
Olivia and Luca Felicone had known each other nearly all their lives, but when they fell in love as teenagers and eloped to London they broke the hearts of those closest to them. Luca’s parents run Marinella’s restaurant, the colourful hub of life in the otherwise bleak north-eastern seaside town of Watersford, and his mother, Angela, has never forgiven Olivia for causing such a rift in her beloved family.
On a freezing January night Olivia’s life is shattered when she learns that Luca has been killed in a car accident. She is left with nothing and, after suffering from weeks of overwhelming grief, she abandons her job and returns north to where Luca has been buried in Watersford.
Olivia’s chance meeting with Luca’s married twin brother, Marc, leads to the realization that he is experiencing a loss almost as painful as her own. Their desolation draws them into an affair which both know has no future, but fills the space where Luca should be. It is a course of action that can only spiral out of control, and when it does the consequences are both explosive and cruel.
The Love of My Life is a beautiful novel that portrays both the innocence of childhood, and the dynamics of love and loss with deftness and sensitivity. It is, above all, a stunning debut from an author with a unique and natural narrative voice.
'This first novel is a compelling and sensitively written account of love and passion, grief and death.' -- Nuneaton Telegraph
'This is Louise Douglas' first novel and she has achieved something very accomplished.' -- Thebookbag
- Publisher : Macmillan; Main Market edition (1 Feb. 2008)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 336 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0230532071
- ISBN-13 : 978-0230532076
- Dimensions : 13.5 x 3 x 21.6 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 1,154,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer reviews:
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Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 27 September 2015
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I bought this novel on the advice of a review from the Bookbag site, where it was likened to Maggie O'Farrell's 'After You'd Gone'. Unfortunately, I found it markedly inferior, largely because Liv is for the most part so unlikeable. In the chapters dealing with her childhood and adolescence, she comes across as profoundly boring, silly and self-involved, with no real interests, and prepared to do anything (even have a fling with the husband of the woman for whom she babysits) to get attention. As an adult, it was amazing how quickly and with what little guilt she entered into the fling with Marc, even though she was still supposedly mourning her husband, and had good reasons not to hurt Marc's wife. Maybe Douglas was making the point that Liv's unhappy fatherless childhood had made her totally dependent on men in a rather clingy way - but if so she didn't make it clear enough, and Liv never really seemed to come to any greater self-knowledge. Nor did Douglas make quite enough of the fact that Liv couldn't have children, though this was an interesting idea to introduce. The other characters in the novel were rather colourless stereotypes: bossy Italian Mamma Angela ordering her sons around; her henpecked husband Maurizio; the nasty vengeful sister-in-law (in fact, Liv seemed to have been pretty hurtful to her, all things considered); the weak lecherous brother-in-law; Liv's cold, religious-fanatic mother (given to phrases such as 'I don't want to breathe the same air as you at the moment') and her creepy friend Mr Hensley. The more interesting characters, such as the Professor who Liv works for and Chris at the cafe felt under-used, and I'm not sure why Douglas didn't make more of Liv's work on the life of the local novelist Marian, which I'd thought would be a big part of the book - it really didn't play much of a role at all, which meant that the 'big revelation' at the end fell completely flat.
I also felt the book was somewhat clumsily put together. There were some unlikely plot developments. If Liv had left school at 16 and never bothered to get any other qualifications or skills, she would have been unlikely to rise high in the world of PR. I've never known someone drink gin AFTER wine rather than as an aperitif. If Liv was that much of an alcoholic, wouldn't she have shown more signs of it? Why did Liv want a university job if - as she said - she had no academic interests? And university professors advertising for research assistants usually do so among graduate students (who are often so much in need of experience that they'll work for free) or at least graduates, and would be unlikely to take on an unqualified woman with few literary interests. And in comparison to Douglas's later very gripping thrillers (including 'In Her Shadow' which I think I under-estimated) the novel really lacks plot: Liv's research work doesn't feature enough, her affair with Marc rambles on inconclusively and we never get much of a sense that she's come to any greater self-knowledge, that her grief process has developed in any way or that she's resolved her problems with Luca's family. This makes the book neither a particularly rewarding family saga, nor a very focussed observation of grief.
There are, it has to be said, some beautiful passages to the book, particularly Liv's memories of past happiness with Luca, and her enjoyment of her work. And I think Douglas should be applauded for not giving the book a straightforwardly happy ending - the final chapter was one of the best written bits. I also liked the 'black dog' images that recurred as a symbol for grief. All this hints at a writer of promise - but I didn't think the promise came to anything much in this book, which was in the end rather cliched and sentimental. Sorry to fans of this book - but I do believe in writing honest reviews!
Missing Luca with “every breath and heartbeat”, Olivia returns to their hometown to be close to his grave but has to face the resentment of his family who blame her solely for causing a rift. She seeks solace in Luca’s married twin brother, Mark, who seems to be her only true ally, and their relationship soon grows into a passionate affair which, spiralling in intensity, threatens to increase pain rather than numb it.
The story is beautifully, yet simply written with a natural and sentimental voice that draws on all senses. For example, as Oliva returns home and reflects on the destructive way she’s trying to deal with her grief, she says: “I tried to enjoy the view from the window, the ice crystals on the glass and the magical lightscape on the top surface of the clouds but the wine felt like acid in my stomach and every little jolt and creak of the plane made my heart race and prickled my fingertips.”
The narrative has the feeling of a confessional, coming of age story with the emotional naivety of childhood rebellion in juxtaposition with awakening and remorse in adulthood. Olivia reminisces about her past and lets the consequences guide her decisions in the present. Tragedy, jealousy and apathy are particularly vivid with a clash between free spirits, homemakers and destiny. It’s true that sometimes, loyalty to family can be “worse than law”, as Luca says, yet some people are made for each other regardless of acceptance, entitlement or logic.
If you like a fiery start to a novel, you’ll need a little patience with this one. Intrigue is planted early on but it’s only as clues to the hate shown towards Olivia become clear that things really start to become interesting. I found some omens a little obvious in places, much like in a young adult novel, when organic suspense could have worked fine although I did find this technique stimulated my curiosity...
Read the full Literary Lightbox book review here: http://www.literarylightbox.com/the-love-of-my-life-book-review
I read it in the car til I felt queasy (no, I wasn't driving!), wished it was an audio book so I didn't have to put it down when I WAS driving, read it when we stopped for petrol, read it when the OH was giving someone directions in the street, read it in the bath with my Kindle in a clear plastic bag (must get a waterproof cover) and read it waiting to go into a meeting.
Liv's pain and bewilderment at losing her beloved Luca is almost tangible; it's easy to see why she then loses her way and lets her relationship with Marc develop.
The only bit that jarred a little for me was Nathalie. Constantly described as a "nice" or "lovely" girl, there was nothing at all to show this side of her character, even though Liv herself said Nathalie was nice.
Despite that one thing, the only possible rating for "The Love of My Life" is 5 stars - this is the first book I've reviewed which I've rated this highly. Read it, people. Read it and weep - genuinely. If you can get past the final paragraph without a lump in your throat, you're a harder person than I am.