Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Art of Losing by Rebecca Connell

Until I was ten, my father told me a 
bedtime story every night.
Opening to

The Art of Losing

by Rebecca Connell

First of all, isn't this a beautiful cover?  

Last fall, when I saw a table full of Europa editions at Mrs. Dalloway's Bookstore in Oakland, I thought how great it would be to collect books with beautiful covers.  I recognized a few of the Europa editions as books I'd read and enjoyed, and there were several others on the table that I hadn't read by authors I admire.  One of them, Laurence Cossee's  A Novel Bookstore, almost made it to my favorites reads list last year.

Why not start a collection?

I've been faithfully looking for the little crane or flamingo or whatever that bird is on the backs of spines in second hand shops ever since.  Whenever I find one that isn't The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which I had no trouble finding, I add it to my little collection.  I've even bought a few new.

Thanks to the TBR Double Dare, I finally got around to reading one.  While I enjoyed The Art of Losing by Rebecca Connell and can make the case that it is a good book, it's not as wonderful as the cover.

Ms. Connell's first novel, The Art of Losing, contains a dual narrative telling the story of an illicit affair and its long-term aftermath. Louise opens the novel by describing her arrival at Oxford, not as a university student, but as a young woman looking to discover the man whom she holds responsible for her mother's death.   She insinuates herself into the man's life by attending the lectures he gives at the university and by seducing his son who is also a student.  When Louise finally meets the man and his wife, she gives them her mother's name, Lydia, instead of her own attempting to gauge their attachment to her mother by their reaction.  

The man, Nicholas, is the novel's second narrator.  His narrative begins years earlier as he describes the rekindling of his affair with Louise's mother Lydia over a decade earlier.  Nicholas and his wife Naomi meet Lydia and her husband Martin when they move to Oxford to begin careers at the university.  Lydia and Nicholas both are aware of the risk they are taking each time they meet, but the passion they feel for each other leads to further meetings.  What will happen when Lydia finally asks Nicholas to leave Naomi and marry her?

Louise discovers more information about her mother's affair with Nicholas after she manages to move in with the family for the winter holidays.  Ms. Connell builds enough suspense through these twin narratives to give The Art of Losing a thriller element.   Because Louise holds Nicholas responsible for her mother's death, there is a dramatic tension in the novel that rises over time as the reader can't help but wonder what she will do to Nicholas, his wife or his son once she has evidence against Nicholas.  There is a matching sense of rising tension in Nicholas's narrative since we do not know the circumstances of Lydia's death nor how much was revealed to either Naomi or Martin.  

Unfortunately, in the novels closing section, Ms. Connell relies on a dramatic reveal that I found a bit pedestrian, an attempt at a shocking revelation when a much more common one would have better done the job.   I couldn't help but think what Iris Murdoch or Georges Simenon would have done with the same material  and that maybe Ms. Connell is just young.  Give her a few years and a few more books.  The Art of Losing is a very promising first novel with a few shortcomings.  I'll be interested in reading what Ms. Connell writes next.

Especially if it's got a beautiful cover.


Bybee said...

That's a great cover!

Heather said...

I also bought this book for the cover. I think "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" is the most commonly available because it was featured in Oprah's magazine last summer. Like you, I find the Europa book covers stunning. I wish they'd do posters for the really amazing ones like this! I have "A Novel Bookstore". Guess I should take both of them off the shelf and read them.

C.B. James said...

They'd make great posters. I enjoyed this one and Novel Bookstore. The others that I have read, I also liked.