So, I read about 8/9% of this book, and got stuck with a patronizing male character and some very Mills and Boon type writing –
“Are you by yourself?”
“Yes,” I say, while it looks like he’s examining me, his eyes piercing mine. I feel uncomfortable, almost naked in front of him, and I look elsewhere to catch my breath. But yes, I like what I see.
He drives her back to his place.
From time to time he would turn toward me and penetrate me with his eyes. It seemed as if he were trying to go deeper and deeper … and no they’re not in bed, yet.
There’s nothing wrong with this writing, if that’s what you like and if that’s what the cover and the blurb on the outside has lead you to believe you will get. But I did actually choose this book with some care, having been drawn to the story outline which is as follows:
Susan is a lecturer in Psychology at a university in L.A. She has difficulty in sleeping and appears to be approaching some type of crisis in her life. She decides to visit a night bar, and there meets a stranger, Nick, to whom she is immediately attracted. They chat about their work, and Nick invites her to dinner the following evening, however, as they are driving to the restaurant Nick is diverted by a call and explains that he must return home, to complete an urgent assignment. He is a blogger. Susan offers to help him with this and so they return to his place. At Nick’s loft, Susan scans his bookshelves, and is drawn to a book that turns out to be a diary. Nick explains he found it on a bus and kept it, hoping to return it to the owner. Susan reads some of it and suggests they publish an excerpt on the blog. Nick offers the idea of co-writing, with the aim of trying to find the writer. And, the relationship between them develops.
That it what I liked, the fact that two people are drawn to each other over a decision to work together on something, and thereby gradually find out more about the other. So, I was disappointed with – ‘running his hand through my wet hair, …He was in control, and I liked it.’ etc. Within the first 5 pages!
I actually wrote back to the publisher, Smith Publicity to say, sorry, No – I can’t review this book; I can’t read any further etc. And they quite diplomatically wrote back and said – it’s ok, you’re not obligated to write anything.
So, I steeled myself to take another look and then quite suddenly I found myself – hooked. Yes, drawn in, caught. This is where it happened, Susan is reading the journal, which is about Andrew and the loss he suffers when his girlfriend leaves him:
“…I’d have been so happy if we had talked about you, what you believed, what your fears were. We never did. And that was because you thought I could not understand, or rather because I never showed you any interest? I hope that’s not the reason, because I was, I am interested in you. I just don’t know how to show that to you. I should have tried harder, I know. And now I can only talk to your friends and try to understand you better. It is too late.?”
After that – I was prepared to forgive this writer just about anything.
And I confess I was in tears several times. There is incredible passion here and a real dynamic into how men and women connect, or are unable to connect with each other.
If the writer had pursued only the story lines between Susan and Nick, and Andrew and his girlfriend, Emily. I think it would have been very good, but the story is complicated by explorations and digressions into the past. As Susan develops her interest in finding Andrew she returns to New York and renews her relationships with her father and grandmother, with whom she has deliberately not made contact for more than 12 or 15 years. At the same time, she also finds out more about Andrew’s past, and meets up with his father, Henry Pratt, who also lives in New York and there are some extraordinary interconnections, which are developed between these two.
Another and equally strong plot line is Susan’s on-going relationship with Matt, whom she has also met as a result of her investigations into Andrew’s life.
As I progressed through this book, I was pulled up several times, by the sophistication of her writing, and I kept asking myself, how could the same person write so divinely about people, and their need to understand themselves and each other, and the awful blurby stuff at the beginning? Eventually I decided that the passionate love/lust relationship that Susan develops with the deplorable Nick is quite convincingly connected to her own personal development. Susan has never been allowed, or allowed herself the chance to explore the impact that her mother’s death has had on her. Having suppressed the knowledge of her mother’s suicide her whole life, she gradually allows herself to see how this denial is present in other ways, her insomnia, anger, self-rejection, – “I don’t go out that often,” I confessed, not sure why. “Why’s that? (says Nick) Are you a broken heart or something?” “No, definitely not. I’m just, I’ve been . . . on pause, I guess.”
So, Nick is the catalyst, which initiates her self-discovery.
(But more importantly, her attraction to Nick is an expression of the need to cause herself pain; she knows Nick will do this. And she needs this pain, as the release or the trigger which will allow her to experience the pain involved with the loss of her mother. This is quite complicated psychology but it is explored in a convincing manner through the various plots of this novel. There are several symbolic connections – to do with self-hurt. She cuts her leg [accidently] with a razor before her first date with Nick, and then cuts her hand very deeply when she thinks she can no longer write; she also inflicts self-hurt when she steps in front of a car to protect the dog belonging to her father’s small son.)
Throughout the inter-mingling of these various lives and stories, Susan also starts to write her own novel, which we discover is in fact the book we are reading, Frozen Butterflies. Her affair with Nick, the blossoming of her creative talents, the actual writing process is the content of this book. Eventually her writing brings about a catharsis which enables Susan to expel both the issues with her mother and the need to rely on Nick for his critical and creative support. At the end of the novel she is able to stand alone.
And I think this is why the beginning is as it is – to show her dependent state.
I just want to include some of the philosophical reflections that Henry Pratt offers to Susan to help her: “We write to learn, so we often don’t know much about the topic we write about, and most likely won’t know enough when we complete our work either. So, it’s the search we fix in writing, not the truth.”
Poor old Henry has Alzheimer’s but he returns an essay to Susan which she reads at some later point: “… it’s not the past per se that affects our present, our life, he argued. It’s our perception of it, the way we alter what we live and sense.” And thus Henry gives Susan the key to help her find a way out of the past.
One final thing, as I live in Cyprus, I would just like to say that “thaleia” means to blossom, a Greek word, which is the name of the theatre where Susan and Nick, and also Andrew go to watch old movies. “Thalia/thaleia, is also the name of one of the nine muses and the name of one of the three Graces.
Thank you Simona Grossi – I loved your book, and thank you Bella Asher at Smith Publicity, for sending me the story – twice, no less.