Sunday, September 1, 2013

"Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love"

Sarah Butler lives in London. She runs Urban Words, a consultancy which develops literature and arts projects that explore and question our relationship to place. Ten Things I've Learnt About Love is her first novel.

Butler applied the Page 69 Test to Ten Things I've Learnt About Love and reported the following:
Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love alternates between the voices of Alice – a woman in her late 20s struggling to come to terms with her father’s death and her difficult relationship with her sisters – and Daniel – a homeless man in his late 50s who walks the streets of London searching for the daughter he’s never met.

On page 69, we are with Daniel in a homeless shelter in North London. He has met a Polish man, Anton, the evening before, and on page 69 they are having breakfast together, and forming a tentative friendship. Discussing their plans for the day, Daniel half makes an offer for Anton to join him on his city wanderings:
“If you want, you could –” I stop myself. It’s been a long time since I got involved with someone else.
The novel is in large part a book about connection: how we succeed and fail in connecting with other people. Looking at it in isolation, this moment with Daniel and Anton does seem symbolic of the book’s wider themes.

Daniel has synaesthesia: every letter is associated with a specific colour. On page 69, Anton declares he wants to go to Buckingham Palace:
Anton spins his cup on the plastic tabletop. “Buckingham Palace.” “Buckingham” – a rich mahogany word, the colour of an old-fashioned dresser – sounds unfamiliar when he says it. “I want to see Buckingham Palace.”
And later, Daniel describes Anton’s clothes:
Anton wears white trainers. His jacket looks like an old army sleeping bag, a puffed-up, shiny olive-green, the color of his daughter’s name.
Daniel’s synaesthesia runs throughout the novel. At the beginning we meet him by the river Thames, collecting colors. He spends his days seeking out rubbish the color of specific letters, which he then arranges into ‘words’ and leaves around London in the hope his lost daughter might see them, and on some level, understand. This ‘writing’, which goes back to the idea of connection, develops throughout the book.

The connection between Daniel and Anton is in part driven by the fact that they both have daughters – Daniel has never met his, Anton is estranged from his. Daniel recognises this commonality:
I consider telling him about you, but decide against it, even though – perhaps – he might understand. I recognize how his eyes flick away from whoever he’s talking to, and I know that I do the same.
Throughout his narrative, Daniel addresses ‘you’: the daughter he yearns to find. After this scene on page 69, Anton and Daniel spend a day in London which ends in a library where, helping Anton write a letter to his daughter, Daniel finally finds the information he needs to locate his own daughter. It is this connection, and what comes from it, that sits at the very heart of Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love.
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah Butler's website.

Writers Read: Sarah Butler.

--Marshal Zeringue