Harper Collins £15.99stg
Barbara Gowdy's sixth novel introduces us to the idealistic and impulsive Louise Kirk, the romantic of the book's title, whose lonely fantasies as a young girl lead her to love but also to unbearable heartache.
Told through flashback, by Louise at twenty-six, the novel begins when she is ten years old, growing up in 1960s Canada. When her beautiful but cynical mother disappears from her life Louise finds herself bereft. The fact that she is an only child in an area where such a thing is almost unheard of also adds to her loneliness. So when the Richters and their son Abel move in next door, Louise is intrigued.
At first, she imagines herself being taken in by the exotic Mrs Richter and loved like a daughter. She befriends the gifted Abel in an attempt to endear herself to the object of her affection. It isn't long however, until her affection switches from the boy's mother to the boy himself. So begins a love affair which the grown up Louise recognises may have been doomed from the start.
In Louise, Gowdy has created a character who is passionate and impulsive but also obsessive and jealous. She is so much in love with Abel that he becomes her life and, even when he breaks her heart, she believes that she cannot be happy without him. Abel himself however, drifts through life, never really making decisions about things. His descent into alcoholism at a young age and his easy acceptance of his impending death is difficult for Louise to understand.
Louise's romantic ideas about love conflict with Abel's belief that everything is perfect as it is. In the interaction between the lovers Gowdy explores the nature of love and its imperfections. Her depiction of Louise's obsession and Abel's detachment is engrossing and you can't help but want Abel to be what Louise wants him to be. The best thing about the novel perhaps is that Louise learns to accept Abel for what he is.
'The Romantic' is a very readable tale about love and its pitfalls but it is predictable in places. We discover early on that Louise is narrating the story after Abel's death and readers may find that a little anticlimactic. In essence though, it is an enjoyable, thought-provoking novel with some very memorable characters.