I stayed up late on Sunday night finishing Angela Young’s Speaking of Love – a thoughtful novel about schizophrenia and about courage and about love. It was not an easy read in many ways because Young does not shy away from depicting some of the more devastating aspects of schizophrenia. But Speaking of Love is also very much about storytelling. And how the telling of stories, of crafting and listening to them, of reveling in them, can help bring people together and mend some of the loneliness that is so often experienced by the families and loved ones affected by mental illness.
The novel also deals with the idea of the past controlling our present and what a vicious cycle this perspective can turn out to be. One of the novel’s main characters, Vivie, is a frightening example of how trauma can become your only filter of expression and how each and every one of your personal relationships can become dictated by the needs and demands of feeding that traumatic persona.
In many ways each of the novel’s narrators (there are three – Iris, Vivie and Matthew) is trapped or bound inside the memory of a shared painful experience. Except, I suppose, for one important distinction – these three have not shared that experience at all. They endured it side by side, temporally and physically, but came out at the other end with vastly different reactions and no ability to communicate with one another.
Something I really appreciated in this novel is Young’s offer of an honest, simple, and realistic solution. Kindness, patience, understanding, learning how to say the difficult words. Sounds easy, of course, but we all know it’s not. Matthew is the most prepared to learn this lesson and his voice is one of the more delightful elements of the novel – introspective and quiet, fearful but affectionate. He takes us through the hushed moments, the times he stood watching and waiting, hoping.
I remember the smells most: the wet earth when we dug the potatoes up, the sweet carrots in their cool sand box in Dad’s shed, the mellow honeyed scent the apples gave out from their slatted wooden shelves and the musky smell of the beans on their poles.
The novel’s intricate structure, with its three distinct voices and several tenses, adds to the story’s natural tension. Each chapter is short and as the three stories begin to grow more complex, more entwined, they begin to play off one another and deepen our appreciation of the other. The novel also includes four of Iris’s stories – strange, darkly beautiful fairytales – which conclude each of the four parts and add a tangible feeling of storytelling to the entire book. Very unique and quite elegantly done.
Speaking of Love is Angela Young’s first novel. I know she is working on a second and I for one am very excited to see it when it comes out. She also runs a delightful blog about her writing and reading at Writing, Life and the Universe.