Book Review: Out of Love by Hazel Hayes

“I think we like it because it’s not a fairy tale,’ I said. ‘It’s bittersweet. And it’s real.”

It will be difficult for me to recommend or review this book. Not because I did not enjoy it, but because my connection to this novel feels so personal, I doubt my ability to fairly critique it. At times, reading this novel felt like reading my own life; like it was written for me. 

Suddenly, the words of some half-remembered Seamus Heaney poem come swimming up at me. ‘Sunlight’ […] The poem began with a sunlit absence, but I had never understood that opening line until now. What could possibly be missing from this scene, I wondered, which seemed so overflowing with light and love? Standing here, now, I finally understand; the scene itself is absent. It has already come and gone and faded into memory. The moment exists outside of time, as though it’s happening in the present but is already part of the past

Out of Love, p263

Out of Love is, quite simply, the unravelling of our anonymous heroine’s relationship. The timeline has been reversed: starting with the break-up and ending with their first meeting. I have come across this chronology before in The Long View by Elizabeth Howard, which I reviewed some years ago. But while the The Long View is characterised by complete unhappiness and regret, Out of Love is characterised by the absence of happiness – happiness known and ended. And ultimately, there is no room for regret if good memories and self-respect are to survive.

Both Howard’s and Hayes’ novels belong to the romance genre. If I might care to pigeonhole myself, or belittle said genre, I might (and would) blithely state that I “do not do” romantic fiction. I find it to be a genre filled with gender stereotypes and clichés, gratuitous tragedy and fake fairytale endings. Out of Love has none of these things.

I think we like it because it’s not a fairy tale,’ I said. ‘It’s bittersweet. And it’s real.

Out of Love, p346

Out of Love is raw, but not needlessly tragic. It is honest and modest. It is flavoured with self-deprecation and colourful self-satire, and painted with a bittersweet brush. And that is the overarching emotion that this book conjured in me: bittersweet. I could not honestly say I had experienced the bittersweet until very recently in my life. Bittersweet has that quality of sadness and joy that only adulthood can muster – its trademarks are vulnerability, maturity and acceptance.

Acceptance is an elusive thing. It is quiet and subtle and undefinable. You are never quite sure when you arrive there, and after such powerful experiences as towering love or abysmal sadness, acceptance is only distinct in its absence of palpable feeling. An absence of great joy or pain, but with knowledge of both which is truly a gift. That is the zone in which Out of Love exists.

Acceptance cannot exist in a vacuum, and Hayes’ story is not without pain, joy, anger or love. But there is a security that accompanies it all, and with that security comes resilience, good humour and empathy.

Heartbreak is a grieving process. We unpick the relationship, looking for clues and red flags we should have spotted. We look to blame something or someone for the pain we are in. Out of Love is told from the heroine’s perspective, and at first glance, we think it righteous to point the finger at the ex-boyfriend. But, as the saying goes, relationships are a two-way street. Love blossoms where connection is sought by more than one party. And the severing of that connection leaves no-one unharmed. So, between the lines of her story, we see his too.

Your story never stops. How can it, when all our stories are woven together, part of some greater tapestry of tales that make up our lives and the lives of those around us?

I am my mother’s daughter, and her story is my story too. It’s mine to carry, mine to hold – with love if I can manage it – and mine to weave into my own.

Out of Love, p282

Everybody has the same potential for love and suffering and, out of love for one another, we must find a way to accept the flaws of those we have loved and who loved us back.

We are both wounded in our own way and, like a pair of tectonic plates shifting over time, our wounds will gradually grate against one another’s, causing damage at a glacial pace. Neither one of us will notice until it’s too late.

Out of Love, p310

Like I said at the start, I feel a deeply personal connection to this book. It is evident that this story comes from Hayes’ own experience of loss and her struggle to find acceptance. In the Acknowledgements at the back of this book, Hayes says best what I would like to say to myself:

And finally, this book is for my Angels, those past and future versions of myself who continue to love and to hope and to fall in spite of themselves. Keep falling please. I will always be there to pick you up.

Out of Love, p356

Credit: Out of Love, by Hazel Hayes, published by Unbound Books


Book Review: “Muse of Nightmares” by Laini Taylor

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Laini Taylor’s style is addictive; she builds her world with finesse and love, and dazzling colour. Her characters are warm, menacing, complex, dangerous, beautiful and capable of wonderful – or terrible – things.

She floated in the air before them, eyes glowing red, flames blooming in her hands, wearing mesarthium armor and wielding lightning like spears, and the godspawn and humans were humbled and appalled.

Muse of Nightmares, Laini Taylor, p336

Hodder & Stoughton (9781444788952)

Muse of Nightmares is the sequel to Strange the Dreamer, which I read last year and neglected to review. Sometimes it’s difficult to think critically about a book you’ve just read, because you feel bereft when it’s suddenly over. That’s how I felt when I finished Strange the Dreamer a year ago, and how I felt last night, when I closed the cover of Muse of Nightmares. Bereft is the word. Hyperbolic, it may be, but we, my friends, are Book People, so I hope, between us, I will not be judged.

In many ways, Strange the Dreamer is a fairytale. A young man, an orphan, with nothing to his name but a dream of greater things. A young woman, made to feel worthless despite her wondrous potential, trapped in a tower, dreaming of escape. Those same young people, against all the odds, unlock each other’s destinies. But this is a fairytale smuggled inside a fantasy, so think big.

Muse of Nightmares, like Strange the Dreamer, is a fluent, acrobatic, magical silk sleigh ride through the world of Zeru. Zeru is the world of Lazlo Strange, and the blue-skinned orphans of the terrible blue-skinned gods, who left a city without a name, and a tragic legacy of murder and mystery.

The characters all have the unmistakable stamp of Laini Taylor. They are in turns warm and funny, desperately in love, in exquisite pain, hopeful and distraught. Taylor has the ability to convey emotion effortlessly and without hyperbole or falsity, no matter how intense. Her characters and her world envelop you in a warm blanket, and leaves you wishing for a duvet day that would never end.

Taylor’s storytelling is so effortless, full of wonderful imagery and dialogue, that you can flick to almost any page and find something worth reading aloud. But she also achieves perfect clarity continuously, and that is the best compliment I could give.

She gave the words back to him, murmuring, and kept them, too. You could do that: Give them back and keep them. “I love you” is generous that way.

ibid, p166

The first book in the series sets up many questions that the second endeavours to answer. Muse of Nightmares seeks to not only conclude the epic story of the first book, but to develop the universe, introduce a new collection of characters and tie up all the loose ends – a daunting task. I am not convinced this undertaking was necessary. Why not expand into another book, when there is so much to be told?

Some character arcs were rushed and some scintillating subplots deserved more attention than they received. My favourite arc in Muse of Nightmares revolves around two sisters, Nova and Kora, and the spectral eagle known as Wraith that features in book one. To avoid spoilers, I will just say that this subplot added a whole new dimension to Taylor’s universe, and I wanted more!

I have not read any of Taylor’s previous titles, but she leaves some tidy Easter eggs within Muse of Nightmares, suggesting that her universe is connected in more ways than is evident in Lazlo’s story alone. We are left with the tantalising notion of “The End. (Or is it?)”, but the way things wrap up at the end of this novel, one could be forgiven for thinking there might not be a next. Nevertheless, I live in hope.

Title: Muse of Nightmares
Author: Laini Taylor
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 9781444789034
Format: Hardback

Paperback to be published April 2019 (9781444789065)