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Kelly Link's The Book of Love is a captivating first book that explores the concept of life after death through magical elements.

Kelly Link’s The Book of Love is a captivating first book that explores the concept of life after death through magical elements.


Kelly Link’s debut novel, The Book of Love, has been highly anticipated. Link is a Pulitzer prize finalist known for her short stories. Her writing often includes elements of magic and strangeness, always with a touch of humor. Her stories cover a wide range of topics, from virtual relationships to enchanted purses, and even include an abundance of eerie rabbits.

This is a contemporary fairy tale, reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The story revolves around three teenagers: Laura, Daniel, and Mo. They had died a year ago, but now they have been inexplicably brought back to life in the music room of their local high school. The one responsible for their resurrection is the mysterious Mr Anabin, who only informs them that they must now learn magic – but he will not be their teacher. In the meantime, a dark stranger named Bogomil has joined them, appearing to be a handsome man but possibly something else entirely. Bogomil warns that two of them will be sent back to the dark and terrifying place they just escaped from. To avoid this fate, they must uncover the truth about their deaths, master the use of magic, and be able to recognize when it is being used against them.

Many books that incorporate fantasy elements aim to depict magic as something extraordinary and alluring. In contrast, The Book of Love rejects this notion entirely, sometimes giving off the impression of having an aversion to it. The magic portrayed in the book is consistently depicted as mundane and commonplace. Even the villain, Malo Mogge, is described by Laura’s sister as being comparable to a teapot. Magic is discussed by characters while trying to figure out how to adjust the temperature on a Jacuzzi. And when the epic history behind the events of the present story is finally revealed, it is awkwardly told during a lengthy bus ride.

Towards the end, individuals undergo transformations into unicorns, fleas, or engage in sexual activities as foxes. In addition, an old guitar transforms into a girl. All of these occurrences are presented in a playful manner, akin to teapots and Jacuzzi controls – with a sense of humor. While this can be charming, it is not always successful in the book’s favor. The teapot goddess poses a true threat, and by the conclusion, terrible events unfold. However, due to magic being portrayed as a backdrop for teenage relationships rather than the main focus, these supernatural events feel out of place. Balancing comedy and grandeur in one story is a difficult feat, and the book struggles to maintain its balance towards the end.

One aspect that never seems to be consistent is the pacing. While a slow pace may be necessary for establishing the world, in this case it appears to be due to the characters’ lack of concern for their own deaths. They reconnect with their friends and partners as if nothing has happened. It’s evident that the protagonist, Link, is more interested in exploring the dynamics of teen social circles rather than the plot that supposedly drives them. The initial chapters set up the book as a fantasy mystery driven by the plot, with an exciting opening that hints at uncovering the truth behind the characters’ resurrection. However, if the beginning had been presented differently, with a focus on teen relationships and a sprinkle of magic, it may have been more authentic. After all, the title is “The Book of Love,” not “The Book of Magic.”

“The writing itself remains steady and unwavering. The language is razor-sharp; it’s difficult to imagine Link producing a clumsy sentence or a subpar description. Her characters are all clever and quick-witted, their banter filled with clever wordplay and inside jokes. As individuals, they are multi-dimensional; endearing and relatable yet also flawed and sometimes annoying. It is a common temptation for writers to make their characters more perfect than real people, in an effort to gain readers’ favor (a tendency that Link playfully mocks through Mo’s grandmother’s romance novels). However, in this case, Link is bold enough to give Laura’s sister a significant issue with personal hygiene, Laura a touch of a god complex, and Mr Anabin a love for tacky slogan T-shirts. This ultimately makes all her characters feel like part of the family: both lovable and infuriating at different times.”

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Source: theguardian.com