Title: The Paper Lovers
Author: Gerard Woodward
As most of you might know already, any story that has anything to do with love (in any form it takes) automatically has my attention, and so a title like The Paper Lovers had me putty in its hands before I even knew what the story would be about. And so, this became yet another one of those books I found myself reading cover to cover, not because I was gripped by the story, but because I could never quite tell how it would unfold.
I will, with full honesty here, admit that my first reaction of the book (once I’d reached the end) was that it was dead weird. It was nothing I’d expected and yet, there was so much story that was told in its few-hundred pages. I was captivated by Woodward’s writing style because it so often mirrored my own, but by ways of story, I struggled to understand why it was done the way it was and why it was deserving of print.
But, having slept on it and had time to really think about the novel, I think I understand now.
There is little I can say without giving away spoilers, but I will try anyway.
The blurb quite quickly sets the scene for us readers, informing us that protagonist, Arnold Proctor – very much a married man without God, is to embark on an adulterous affair with his wife’s friend Vera, who is most definitely a religious woman. With this framework set, you settle into this book quite quickly, waiting for the affair to unfold and hope that you’ll see the clues before even the characters do, but the truth is, this affair is a slow burner. It presents itself as an obsession which seems to grow by the day and everything we felt like we knew about marital infidelity seems to be thrown out of the window.
This is not a book where the marriages break or the characters fall out of love, this is a book that walks the very fine line between a mid-life crisis and a crisis of faith. This is a book that can be entirely summarised by this single line:
Though this is in description of the southern English city with no name in which the story is set, it is profound and symbolic in an inexplicable way until you dig deeper.
The Paper Lovers is an ordinary book about ordinary people who live very ordinary lives, but a mid-life crisis (though I’m hesitant to use this term in such a blasé manner – I like to think of it more as an unchallenged boredom from the banal rites of everyday life) tears through them like a riptide. Like this fine gothic cathedral situated in the centre of their God-less lives, Vera, though seemingly normal and unremarkable, stands erect in Arnold’s marriage as a beacon of what a life with God could be like.
Vera challenges everything Arnold has ever stood for, and with the appearance of what seems like another unimportant character, Martin Guerre, we are able to understand the depths to which Woodward uses symbolism to portray his themes rather than outright telling us what he wants to say. This character, with his unstable identity and his vulnerabilities stripped bare for us all to see, seems to be the undercurrent that changes everything by simply existing.
For those looking for an easy breezy read, I wouldn’t recommend this. But for those who (like myself) love for their reads to be riddled with metaphors, you will be hooked by The Paper Lovers. It will touch a nerve from time to time, and frustrate the living daylights out of you, but it is an honest reflection of the way life can unfold. Admittedly, there are a few steamy moments in the book which are most definitely written by a man and do little justice to the female presence, but this isn’t enough to completely put you off the book.
If you do read this, take your time with it and let the novel sink in before you react to it.