Book Review: Writers and Lovers by Lily King

 

When I wrote recently about loving Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, a couple of blogging friends alerted me to another book which Strout had described as ‘gorgeous’ – Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. I rushed to it immediately and was not disappointed.  I am in good company – over 13,000 reviewers on Goodreads have given this book four or five star reviews.

Here’s the blurb:

‘Blindsided by her mother’s sudden death, and wrecked by a recent love affair, Casey Peabody has arrived in Massachusetts in the summer of 1997 without a plan. Her mail consists of wedding invitations and final notices from debt collectors. A former child golf prodigy, she now waits tables in Harvard Square and rents a tiny, moldy room at the side of a garage where she works on the novel she’s been writing for six years. At thirty-one, Casey is still clutching onto something nearly all her old friends have let go of: the determination to live a creative life. When she falls for two very different men at the same time, her world fractures even more. Casey’s fight to fulfill her creative ambitions and balance the conflicting demands of art and life is challenged in ways that push her to the brink.’

If I had read this first, I don’t think I would have picked up the book.  This sounds a bit light and frothy to me. Nothing wrong with that at all; it’s just not a style of writing to which I am usually drawn. But luckily, because of the recommendations from trusted sources, I did not even look at the blurb before plunging in.

Right from the start, we experience Casey’s creative agony:

‘I don’t write because I think I have something to say. I write because if I don’t, everything feels even worse.’

I can relate to this in a small way.  I have found over the years that doing something creative each day, however small – perhaps knitting just one row – is an essential part of good mental wellbeing for me.

Another aspect of Casey’s creative struggle is the need to be alone to write, set against  the pull of developing new relationships. She has to wrestle with her inner and outer worlds, trying to achieve some kind of balance or harmony. Neither feel particularly comfortable domains for her.  The death of her mother crowds and clouds her thoughts; the challenges and practicalities of trying to make ends meet burden her daily routines.

None of this is helped in any way by the men in her life.  She is subject to all kinds of verbal and physical abuse from pretty much all the men in the book: her father; her new lovers; her boss; her colleagues. It’s utterly exhausting for her and the reader. But we are rooting for her and want her to triumph.

The only slight wrinkle for me in the narrative is that Casey is apparently in her early 30s, but she reads much younger to me.  I had to keep reminding myself of her age – something which seemed necessary to keep her in the right context for the narrative.  But this is a minor detail and in no way detracts from the overall enjoyment of the story.

Let me close with another aspect of this book which totally endeared it to me.  Woven through the narrative is a relationship which Casey has with a flock of geese.  I find these birds absolutely fascinating and one of my most favourite books (which I have mentioned in previous posts loads of times, sorry!) is The Snow Geese by William Fiennes. So any book which includes geese is on to a good thing from the start in my view. Here’s how Casey feels about them:

‘I love these geese.  They make my chest tight and full and help me believe that things will be all right again, that I will pass through this time as I have passed through other times, that the cast and threatening blank ahead of me is a mere spectre, that life is lighter and more playful than I’m giving it credit for.’

This is a beautifully written novel, one to savour and linger over. I also enjoyed all the bookish references and have come away with some titles for my To Be Read list. So a winning read all round, and a big thanks to Ann and Susan for their recommendations.

‘It’s a particular kind of pleasure, of intimacy, loving a book with someone.’

 

With thanks to publisher Grove Press for a review copy via NetGalley.
Featured Image: Photo by Brent Gorwin on Unsplash
Image of Geese: taken from my review copy which does not attribute the artist.  I will update this post when I am able to add the credit.

23 thoughts on “Book Review: Writers and Lovers by Lily King

  1. This sounds right up my street. I have Olive Kitteridge still sitting here waiting; it’s even in the pile which is supposedly for the books at the top of the queue. (Though I think it’s the kiss of death when I put a book there. I really do want to read it and yet, there it sits. And sits …. 🤦‍♀️) Anyway, you’ve identified another one for the list, Liz; when I finally get around to Olive!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, I have several reading piles like that! 🤣 I’m due to review Olive K and Olive, Again soon….. (and intrigued as to why you don’t like The House on the Strand by the way – it seems rather good to me, but only half-way through at the mo).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s an incentive for me to write a post on tHotS. I will do my best! And I’m glad I’m not the only one with piles of books. At the moment I think my precious books are in the worst muddle ever! 😀 I’ll look forward to your thoughts on Olive, Liz

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review, Liz. I will be putting this one and Elizabeth Strout’s books on my list but as I’m being good and not buying any books at the moment, they will have to wait until I read a few of the books I already own!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I absolutely loved this book and it will be on my favourites at the end of the year. I agree, the publicists haven’t helped with choice of cover and marketing – I also dismissed it at first as being ‘light and frothy’ but so glad I read it – it’s anything but light and frothy.

    Liked by 1 person

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