Whatever You Love
By Louise Doughty
(Harper Perennial, Paperback, 9780062094667, March 2012, 384pp.)
The Short of It:
Grief has no boundaries.
The Rest of It:
When nine-year-old Betty is hit by a car and killed, Laura finds herself reminiscing about her life before Betty and the marriage that fell apart after her brother is born. Starting with the death of Betty and weaving in and out of time, Laura reviews her life with a critical eye. Overcome with grief, she fixates on the man who killed Betty and vows to destroy whatever he loves.
The premise of this novel sounds overly simplistic but it’s a very complicated story, interwoven with bits about Laura and her relationship with David, her ex-husband. The dynamic between the two seems trivial compared to the death of their daughter, but I found the information vital to my understanding of Laura herself. Her actions are often questionable, yet by the end of the book, I felt as if I knew Laura quite well, and what at first appeared “cringe worthy” made sense considering the entire picture.
The opening scene, where Laura is informed of Betty’s death had me sitting on the edge of my seat. The sights and smells are all described for the reader and as Laura makes her way to Betty’s hospital room, my heart nearly stopped. To see your child without life, covered by a thin sheet with only a small cut on her forehead, seems like an incredibly cruel joke and as the reality sinks in (does it ever really sink in?) you realize how difficult the next few hours, days, weeks and months will be for this woman. My heart broke for her numerous times while reading this story.
As Laura’s life unfolds, so does her relationship with David. At first, the love of her life and later the man who caused her so much pain, we see many sides to David, much of it not being good, but here is a man who has just lost his daughter. What is it they say? There are two sides to every story? Well, in this book, we hear Laura’s side and what we see of David’s is not all that favorable. Manipulative and a tad dangerous, he is unpredictable in one sense, and totally predictable in another. He remains an unknown and that made me uncomfortable every time he entered the picture.
Then, there is the man who killed Betty. Driving recklessly yet ultimately, an accident. He is allowed to walk free, yet Betty’s life is over. The unfairness of this forces Laura to promise to herself, that whatever he loves, will be taken away from him. The seriousness of this promise does not sink in until she is actually in the act of carrying it out. This part of the story seemed to stray a bit for me. Motive aside, she seemed to be acting out of character and she did things that made me not like her even though I sort of understood why she was doing them. Additionally, the wrap-up seemed to come up too fast for me. I could have used a little more detail in the last few chapters to help me digest the ending.
That said, I loved the complicated nature of this story and the narrative structure worked for me. None of these characters are perfect and nearly all of them are deeply flawed which made for interesting reading. Doughty’s handling of grief, and how it destroys families directly and indirectly is impressive. The writing is solid and there is a lot to think about. If you like psychological drama, then you will enjoy this one.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Net Galley.
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