Love Songs and Lies (by Libby Purves)

I've read all of Libby Purves' novels and enjoyed them to varying degrees. Her earlier work was fairly punchy, sometimes addressing current issues in unexpected ways, leaving me sometimes with my preconceived ideas altered, pondering for days. Her more recent books have been gentler, and I'd read reviews suggesting that 'Love Songs and Lies' was a return to her earlier style.

It was certainly written in an interesting way, narrated in the first person by Sally and adopting almost the style of a biography, with a few author asides here and there; not annoying ones, as in Victorian novels, but almost making the book feel more real. Sally, at the start of the story, is a student about to start living in a run-down house with two friends - Marienka and Kate - and the rather gorgeous and highly intelligent Max.

Sally falls head over heels in love with Max - or at least with his image - but tells the story from the vantage point of thirty years in the future, so it's clear that she realises it was silly, that Max wasn't all he seemed, that any relationship was doomed. However at the time it was real to her; she lived for every hint of affection. And Max is a nice enough guy, but rather manipulative, as everyone else quickly realises.

The novel then moves forward a bit to Sally's marriage, her life as a song-writer and as a mother, and her struggles to find out what really matters to her. She goes through good times and bad, tragedies and shocks, and there's a kind of honesty about her, so we see her faults and mistakes quite clearly, yet they make sense from her perspective at the time.

So it's cleverly written, and I found it fairly gripping - I read it in just two days, and it's not a short book (nearly 400 pages). However, I didn't really relate fully to any of the characters. Marienka is a caricature of a wild fun-loving (but very loyal and caring) person, Kate is rather a shadowy solid, down-to-earth motherly type. Max himself is by turns adorable and shallow... which is probably how we're meant to see him, alternately through Sally's eyes as a student, and her more mature understanding eyes as a middle-aged adult.

But the very mixed narrative - the narrator seeing her young self from a distance - makes Sally seem a distant kind of person too, and despite hoping her life would turn out all right, I never quite got inside her head. Nor were there any really thought-provoking issues raised. The book touches on the problems of single mothers in the seventies, of poverty and pride, of family loyalties and the ties of friendship.

There was also the theme of lies - or at least of concealed truths, one of which has a thread running through the book. But although there are one or two sudden and slightly shocking events, there was nothing to make me think about it further once I'd finished.

Oddly enough, this book does not seem to have been published in the USA.

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