Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

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.



13 Responses to “Angela Young – Speaking of Love”

  1. gentle reader

    This sounds really good–I’m always interested to read well-done books about mental illness and its effects. Sigh…another book on my ever-growing list! Thanks for the review.

  2. verbivore

    Gentle Reader – Yes, I think you would like it. A soft story with some barbed wire around the edges.

    Ann – As always, I would love to know what you think of it.

  3. びっくり

    Sounds intriguing indeed. Storytelling and pondering love both have great value. I wonder if this book would be an easy foray for someone normally uncomfortable with the issues of mental illness. It seems that it might be.

  4. Stefanie

    What an interesting sounding book! The place where I work provides mental health services and I usually shy away from books about mental illness simply because I see it everyday, but this one I just might have to look for.

  5. verbivore

    Bikkuri – It’s a good question. I do think this book might be easier for someone uncomfortable with issues surrounding mental illness. More than anything it was a book about forgiveness and healing – not about being sick. And the storytelling chapters go a long way at smoothing the sections dealing specifically with Iris’s illness.

    Stefanie – I would love to know what you think if you do get a chance to read it. I felt it was one of those rare books which really tried to paint an honest portrait of mental illness – not exoticize or downplay it.

  6. litlove

    I would really like to read this, but I know I need to be feeling strong to do so. Still, that’s not really a problem of spirit, just a question of time. Lovely review, verbivore.

  7. Logophile

    This book sounds wonderful – and thanks for the link to her blog too. It’s always exciting to discover a new author :-). Several of the books I’ve loved most this year deal with the idea of the past controlling the present…

  8. verbivore

    Litlove – What was nice about this book is because of the short chapters it was a good one ot pick up and put down. The story was compelling but it was easy to take my time with it – that’s nice sometimes.

    Logophile – That was the aspect of the novel that I found the most compelling, how we get trapped in a belief that our past somehow controls our present. I’d love to see what you think of this one if you geta chance to read it.

  9. verbivore

    Ann – Hooray that you’re back up and running and I cant wait to hear what you think about Speaking of Love.

  10. Angela Young

    I have only just read this perceptive and thoughtful review of Speaking of Love – thank you so much for it. Some readers have felt that Matthew is just too good to be true or, as some others would have it, he’s just plain ‘wet’. But your sense of him as ‘introspective and quiet, fearful but affectionate’ is exactly what I had in my head as I wrote him.

    Thank you also for your words about the way mental illness is treated in the book. It seems to me that our fear of mental illness can even prevent us reading fiction about it; I think your review will persuade those who are worried to try Speaking of Love. Thank you.

    Thank you also to all the readers of of your review for their comments.

  11. verbivore

    Angela – Thank you for stopping by! And thank you for writing such an interesting book. I mentioned this above but I am definitely looking forward to your next which I hope you are enjoying as you get more into the writing and planning process.

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