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True Love by Paddy Crewe review – from the heart

True Love by Paddy Crewe review – from the heart

Calling a novel True Love is a bold move. It is a title so earnestly declarative that I had initially assumed it must be ironic. But True Love is an entirely straight-faced, sentimental, open-hearted love story. This quietly peculiar fact is the book’s central strength and, ultimately, its primary weakness.

The second novel by Paddy Crewe, author of the widely acclaimed historical romp My Name Is Yip, True Love tells the stories of Finn and Keely, both troubled, both lonely, and both yearning for the type of safe haven they eventually come to find in one another. Keely, the more compelling of the two, emerges from a childhood marked by tragedy and post-industrial malaise into an early adulthood characterised by a drive for oblivion, her restless soul a mirror of the ragged coastal landscape that haunts her dreams. Finn, on the other hand, is a still point in Keely’s turning world, insular and awkward, opening up hesitantly, solid ice slowly thawing under the heat of her affection.

Although Crewe never names the location, the entangled lives of Finn and Keely seem to unfold in the north-east of England, their childhoods coterminous with a grim inflection point for the region: primary industries hollowed out, entire communities abandoned, a cold new dawn of low-wage service work and barely managed decline. Crewe evokes this sense of melancholy with real deftness; eschewing the didactic, he instead summons a general atmosphere of spiritual weariness, the quiet horror of feeling your life delimited and distorted by enforced material scarcity.

Crewe has an expansive, florid prose style, unfashionably dense with adjective and alliteration. At first glance, there is something admirable in this willingness to take aesthetic risks. Not content with mere bells and whistles, Crewe’s sentences tend to come instead with brutal brass bells and wavering, wistful whistles. You get the idea. It works well enough when he is leaning on sibilance to describe the natural world – the hiss of water against a horse is “spindrift frosting her shivering flanks, tide snaring the shag of her fetlocks with seaweed”. Elsewhere, however, one gets the sense of a writer not wholly in control of his craft, slipping too often into the purple.

In the early chapters, readers may initially feel that Crewe is employing a type of focalisation, using his third-person narrative voice to mimic the sweet vagueness and philosophical hesitancy of his young characters. As the book progresses, however, such an assumption reveals itself as overly charitable. Time and again, Crewe alights on images and turns of phrase that are so overwrought and saccharine that it feels less as though he has written a book about teenage romance and more like he has written a book about romance for teenagers. When Finn first encounters a large fish, caught by his classmate’s father, he “feels love for it – that is the only word for it he can muster – a love that is purer, more intuitive than any kind he has ever felt, even for his nan and grandad”. Keely, meanwhile, in a somewhat Dickensian twist, encounters her long-estranged father in a graveyard and muses on the ways he has been present in her life even in his absence. He has been like footsteps in the snow. Literally: “The snow is still falling, and when she looks down at her feet she sees that the outline of her da’s boots has gone. It’ll just be her prints left when she leaves.”

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Source: theguardian.com