Love is a tour de force: it succeeds in the virtually impossible task of making a long, drunken conversation between two middle-aged men interesting. Spellbinding, even, at times as secrets are revealed and stories spanning a decades-long friendship are laid bare.
Davy and Joe meet for dinner in Dublin; dinner becomes a pub crawl. Joe has something he desperately needs to talk about. He’s in love. Davy has something he doesn’t want to talk or think about. The past is unfurled in a rambling, witty, disjointed but carefully composed conversation.
If I were you, reading this description and not having read the book, I’d be screaming Oh for pity’s sake, spare me! Who hasn’t sat and listened to a friend or family member talking about being in love? Annoying, isn’t it? As a friend or close relation, it’s your job to listen. At times you might want to slap them but you listen sympathetically. Who in their right mind would volunteer for the job?
Doyle captures the dynamic exquisitely yet keeps you hooked. Mostly because of course it’s not you sitting there listening, but Davy, and you want to find out more about what’s up with him. Joe isn’t asking, much — he’s too wrapped up in himself. But Davy; you want to know more there.
Davy questions Joe’s version of the past, and digs in to understand what he’s misrepresenting about the present. He hides his irritation, mostly, but gets impatient. He wants to leave, get out of there, but gets pulled back in again and again. After all, they are friends, and it keeps coming back to what that means.
Love seems to be a pitch perfect display of male friendship, male conversation. But what do I know? I’m a woman. There are some parts I really identified with, however. One is how Doyle (Davy) describes the comforting feeling of sinking back into speaking Irish dialect after many years of living abroad. That feeling of being at home.
Home is a theme running through the novel. Where is home? What does it mean to feel at home? How the past is your home or how you can think it is. Want to think it is. The seduction of the past, as we get older, because it feels like home. If Dublin is, or was, your home, you’ll particularly enjoy this book.
Getting older, ageing, is another theme. Friendship as we age, marriage as we age, parents, failing bodies, changing lives and the simultaneous need to return to our past and escape our past.
And of course, it’s about love. Love between friends, between parents and children, between spouses. And that other weird, unreliable, unpredictable, deceptive kind of love — being ‘in love’.
Reading this does take you back, if you were young in Dublin a few decades ago. There’s an almost Proustian whiff, and more than a hint of Joyce, what with all the old pubs, but don’t let that put you off. Or entice you, for that matter — it’s only a smell of stale beer, after all.
For all these reasons, I gave this book 4 stars. It’s undoubtedly well written by a skilled writer. And it’s funny, quite often. I took away 1 star because, well, it’s a conversation in a pub by two middle-aged men and, well, how boring is that? It’s not boring to read but it’s a boring concept. Especially now that I dislike pubs, and booze, and people getting drunk.
My thanks to publisher Jonathan Cape, the author and Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
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