Monday, 16 September 2013

You Are The Love Of My Life by Susan Richards Shreve

It's 1973 and the Watergate scandal is on everyone's lips.  Lucy Painter, a children's book illustrator and single mother of two, leaves New York and the married father of her children to return to Washington, DC, to the neighbourhood where she grew up and the house where her father committed suicide.  Lucy hopes for a fresh start, but her life is full of secrets: her children know nothing of her father's death or the identity of their own father.  As new neighbours enter their insular lives, her family's safety and stability become threatened.

There is a gentle elegance to Susan Richards Shreve's writing.  This is a slow-moving and quietly composed novel, one that relies heavily on it's characters rather than it's plot.

Lucy and her two children are moving from their New York home, they are going back to the house in Washington where Lucy found her father's body hanging after he committed suicide.  Ever since that day Lucy has lived a life that revolves around secrets.  Her mother whisked her away, insisted that they spoke only in French, changed their surname and never spoke about her father again.   Lucy studied art, she met the married man who became the father of her two children when she was no more than a child herself, he has been her only lover ever since.
Lucy's children have never known who their father is and know nothing about their grandfather's death.

Washington is very different to New York City.  The neighbours are overly friendly, thinking nothing of walking into Lucy's kitchen without an invitation or even knocking.  This is a tight-knit community, the residents like to know everything about everyone, and if they don't - well they imagine.   One of the most talked-about residents is August Ruff; Lucy's next door neighbour.  A young widower, an author, a bit of a recluse.  Lucy and August soon become friends.

This is not a story to excite a reader, it won't make you rush to turn the page, the plot is vague and drawn out.  However, the characters are beautifully created, with many layers.  The neighbourhood is perfectly described - the almost claustrophobic friendships are splendid.

The real beauty of this novel is the exploration of the effects that secrets can have on a family, the long-reaching effects of hiding truths and the difficulties in exposing them.

You Are The Love Of My Life is published here in the UK by W W Norton on 17 September 2013 - my thanks to the publishers who sent my copy for review.

Susan Richards Shreve is the author of fourteen novels, a memoir, and twenty-nine books for children.  She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment grant and is cochairman of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation.   She lives in Washington, DC.
Find out more about Susan Richards Shreve at her website 

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