I discovered Simon Van Booy’s ‘The Secret Lives of People In Love’ through a review of the book that I read. Reviewers raved about the book and it left an impression with me. I remembered it suddenly a few weeks back and so thought I will get his books – there are just three of them – and read them. This is the first of his books that I read.
‘The Secret Lives of People in Love’ is a collection of nineteen short stories. Most of them are about love and loss, sometimes about love regained. But mostly about loss. Most stories are between five and ten pages long, except for the last one which is twenty pages long. Simon Van Booy sculpts each sentence in each of his stories with lots of love and with the wisdom gained from all his life, like a master sculptor. Every story has many sentences which are very beautiful. Van Booy prose is spare with vivid images and metaphors. It is a pleasure to read. Reviewers raved about it. One of them said – “These stories have at once the solemnity of myth and the offhandedness of happenstance.” Another said – “Abandon your family, your children, and your friends; resign from your work and your voluntary engagements; let your dinner burn in the oven…and plunge into this book. Real life tastes plastic next to the words of Simon Van Booy.” I loved reading these reviewer’s comments as much as I loved reading Van Booy’s beautiful sentences.
For such a beautiful work of art, the book also had one problem. Many of the stories were a collection of beautiful sentences and images and metaphors. The story was there as an afterthought. Or it was not important. After I finished the first couple of stories, I felt this again and again – that the book was a collection of beautiful sentences and thoughts. But once in a while, the beauty seeped out of those glittering words and sentences and covered the whole story and the whole story glowed with that beauty – like a beautiful green meadow reflecting the sun’s light in a warm summer or a clear winter sky covered with glittering stars. Those stories were the best ones in the book and I read them more than once. My favourites out of these were :
Little Birds – It is about a young boy who is brought up by a man who is not his father and his thoughts on his life on his fifteenth birthday.
Where They Hide is a Mystery – It is about a young boy who has lost his mother and how this creates a distance between him and his father and how a chance meeting with a stranger helps him cope with his grief and get back to his father.
The Still But Falling World – This is about a young man who thinks about his life in his village when a strange girl arrives and introduces herself to his family as a long lost cousin of his and how there is more to her than meets the eye.
The Mute Ventriloquist – It is about how a young man loses and regains the love of a woman. It is also about the small things in life that bring happiness.
The edition of the book I read also had an extra section in which Van Booy talks about his life, his journey as a writer and shares his thoughts on the writing process.
If you like a book constructed out of beautiful sentences, you will love this book.
I will leave you with some of my favourite lines from the book.
This morning I woke up and was fifteen years old. Each year is like putting a new coat over all the old ones. Sometimes I reach into the pockets of my childhood and pull things out.
He stirred the tea until they were both silent – as though from its sugary bottom, something delicate had risen and usurped language.
Edgar drifted farther away from his father. They communicated through silence that flowed between them like a river. In the months that followed her death, the river widened, until Edgar’s father was a motionless speck in a wrinkled suit watching him, arms akimbo, from the opposite bank…By the time winter passed and the earth began to soften, the river of silence between Edgar and his father had become a sea – but it was not rough, nor did the tides bring news of change. Beneath the surface swam unsaid things.
In a child’s handwriting, language is exposed as the pained and crooked medium it really is.
In this village with its damp shoes and Sunday hymns, you are old the moment someone you love dies.
You might say that praying is useless if I don’t believe in God anymore, but let me tell you my opinion : praying for someone is a way to love them without ever having to know them.
I realized that it wasn’t God, the Devil, or death that terrified me – but the fact that everything continues on after, as though we’d never existed.
Serge was learning English slowly like an old man entering a sea. He enjoyed it because there were so many secrets entrenched within the meanings and in the pronunciation of each strange word. Like butterflies, new words flew from Serge’s mouth and fluttered about the classroom for everyone to admire.
She told me that love is when a person introduces you to yourself for the first time.
But Drake found nothing so strange about someone unable to find words for life. Children spend the mornings of their lives in a sea of imagination before being hauled out onto rocks by jealous adults who’ve forgotten how to swim.
Alzheimer’s is like having your entire life written out in chalk and then washed over by the sea at every tide.
He called them dreams because they happened at night, but they seemed too vivid to have been imagined. It was as though they were imagining him. That he was their dream.
When small drops began to fall and darken the world in penny-shaped circles, no one around him scurried for cover. For lonely people, rain is a chance to be touched.
Drake looked at the other drivers…and realized that anyone could be anyone’s father, that anyone could love anyone under certain circumstances, and that life is a museum of small accidents.
…the city of Brooklyn itself fell asleep and dreamed it was once a wild, deep forest where owls looked out from trees into windy plains.
Have you read Simon Van Booy’s ‘The Secret Lives of People In Love’? What do you think about it?