“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 pastOut 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