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(Un)disclosed desires and collateral damages

November 28, 2010 10 comments

The Art of Losing, by Rebecca Connell.

Warning: this is an “after reading” review, full of spoilers. For a “before reading” review and a summary of the story, read Guy’s post here.

Now that you’ve read The Art of Losing or decided you wouldn’t, here are the thoughts I wanted to share about it.

The title. The Art of Losing sounds like the sequel of The Art of Love. (If interested, I reviewed it here.). Ovid tells the reader how to seduce and love. Rebecca Connell shows the consequences of The Art of Love. I think ‘losing’ can be taken in two different ways. On the one hand, it can relate to how lovers and spouses move on after an affair. But in this case, the loss is also that of a mother and the unhealed wound it left in Louise. So, it’s not just about moving on for the lovers but for their families too. On the other hand, “Losing” is also used for games. Everybody lost something in this fool’s game as all the protagonists are somehow impacted by the affair between Lydia and Nicholas. Only Adam seems rather unscathed: he only loses a girl-friend, but his relationship is too recent to have created a strong bond. No one tells him the truth.

As Guy pointed it, the construction of this novel is well thought and powerful. The alternate voices of Lydia/Louise and of Nicholas give life to the story. Lydia’s voice is absent and it leaves huge holes in the picture. She’s dead but she could have been there through a diary or letters. Her ghostly presence hovers upon the characters. The reader only perceive her through Louise’s and especially Nicholas’ eyes. She never gets a chance to explain her choices and this kills Nicholas and haunts Louise. No one knows why she never left Martin and worse, if she committed suicide or if her death was an accident.

I thought the style a little weak. I’ve read this book in English, almost as fast as I would have read a French novel and I didn’t need the dictionary that much. This is not a good sign for the writer. I thought the first chapter describing the meeting between Louise/Lydia and Adam really cheap romance. Afterwards, I saw it as a re-play of Nicholas and Lydia’s first meeting. I agree with Guy, Nicholas’ voice is more convincing that of Louise. Rebecca Connell found the right tone for Nicholas but struggled to find Louise. Perhaps this is not a flaw in the writing but on the contrary a brilliant success: as Louise/Lydia doesn’t know exactly who she is, her character is blurred. The shift between the persons who narrate the story is well-used. Louise’s narrative is in the first person when she is herself and in the third person when she’s using Lydia’s name, a way to show she’s playing a role.

My analysis is that every grown-up has a responsibility in the disaster of Lydia’s death and Louise’s damaged childhood: the lovers for their affair, the spouses for knowing it and looking elsewhere.

Nicholas looks like a predator in the beginning. It was love at first sight. He wanted Lydia. “I knew I could take her away from him. I did love her, I did want her, and in that moment, as thereafter, I made no apology for it. Not to anyone”.  I’ve always thought English common expressions as ‘I want you’ or ‘You belong to me’ very possessive and aggressive. French is smoother and rather asks permission. The reader is led to thinking that Nicholas genuinely loved Lydia: “I felt the same sensation that had assaulted me the very first time I had seen her – that sense of homecoming, that whether I liked it or not, this was where I was meant to be.” To me, love stories are more due to chance than fate. I’m not convinced by the theme of “soul mates”, “kindred spirits” and associated Platonic idea of a lost half waiting for each of us somewhere.

Lydia is a mystery. No one will ever know why she stayed with Martin in 1983, especially since she was pregnant. Fear? Laziness? Father vs Lover complex? Martin is reassuring, a father figure, older, safe. Nicholas is the passion, the unknown. Or did she want to keep her great love intact, untouched by everyday life routine? Did she like and need the thrill of the secret rendezvous? Her relationship with Nicholas remains forever on the ‘lover’ stage. They never had to change bedsheets full of vomit at 3 am because their child had a stomach flu. (If anyone knows how to remain sexy after such a night, please e-mail me the recipe.) Their love was never at risk to be blown away by mundane everyday life details and Nicholas knows it:

For a moment I tried to imagine living with Lydia, our relationship stripped of all its secrecy and danger: saw us sitting cosily round the breakfast table, kissing and holding hands in public, introducing each other at parties. I had no idea whether these things would drain the passion steadily away from us, the way that I now saw they had done with me and Naomi.”

At first, Martin and Naomi appear to be the victims. Martin loved Louise like a dog his master. “His face had taken on the adoring spaniel look that was generally reserved for Lydia.” He put her on her pedestal. But is he really innocent in this disaster? He knew Louise was not his daughter. How did he find out? Fertility tests, I presume. When the two couples meet in 1989, Lydia tells Naomi they encounter difficulties to have another child. Lydia can bear a child. Martin is a scientist, he didn’t need much to acknowledge the obvious. Then, if he knew, why did he let the second affair go on? I suspect he may have hoped that the second affair would end as the first, a pregnancy. Did he use Nicholas to have another child?

I don’t understand Naomi. Why did she stay? For Adam? Every situation is different and it is hard to tell what is the best for children. I think that parents should not sacrifice too much of their own lives for their child. When the child realises the price paid for his sake, what a burden to bear! It’s a liability that can hardly be repaid. Is this child free to do what he wants with his life if he has such a debt? Afterwards, I wonder if Lydia’s death was not a chance for Naomi. It prevented Nicholas from leaving her and from having another affair. If Lydia had lived, he may have grown tired of her and other women may have replaced her. Thanks to Lydia’s death, Nicholas has been faithful to Naomi, at least physically.

This novel makes me think of a well crafted tragedy or a thriller in disguise. The writer leaves clues for the reader everywhere. For example, I had guessed that Louise was Nicholas’ daughter. I only did the maths, cross-referenced details when I was reading, without thinking. So, Louise’s relationship with Adam is genetically an incest. Can this be considered as an incest as they were not brought up together? In the last chapter, what I thought certain crumbled into doubt. When Louise dressed as her mother attends Nicholas’ lecture, men look at her with lust. Did Nicholas imagine it was love he was feeling when it was only lust? To discover that Martin knew that Louise was not his daughter made me reconsider my vision of him.

The Art of Losing raises a whirlwind of questions. About love. About marriage. About divorce and children. About secrets and lies. In the end, the underlying question is: “What it is to be in love?”. It seems to depend on where your ‘love-area’ is located in your body: in your brain, in your heart, on the top of your thighs. Maybe a happy, long-lasting, well-balanced relationship is when the two persons have their ‘love-area’ at the same place in their body. They have a better chance that their spouse instinctively gives them what they need. They don’t expect things they’ll never get.

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