book reviews, literary fiction
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book review: How I Lose You by Kate McNaughton

400 pages, hardcover £16.99 

This title was rather kindly sent to me by the publishers, Transworld / Doubleday (Random House UK), via NetGalley. This review is also being published on NetGalley, GoodReads, LinkedIn, Amazon UK, and my social media accounts. Acceptance of a copy for review is not binding.

the synopsis:

When Eva and Adam fall into bed one Friday night, tired and happy after drinks with friends, they have their whole lives ahead of them. But their story ends on page twelve.

That’s no reason to stop reading though, because How I Lose You is a story told backwards – and it’s all the more warm, tender and moving because we know it is going to be interrupted. It’s a story Eva thought she knew – but as you and she will discover, it’s not just the ending of the story that she got wrong.

advance praise:

“Intriguing, poignant and totally absorbing. I had no idea where it was going, but found it thoroughly addictive. A masterful exploration of grief, relationships and the secrets that we keep from those closest to us. I loved it.” ~ Ruth Hogan

“McNaughton is a profoundly tender storyteller. A truly moving book about love, humanity and sadness, laced with wit – compelling reading for anyone who needs to find a light in the dark” ~ Daisy Buchanan

“Pulls you into its thrall from the very first pages. A book I’ll press into the hands of my friends, urging them to read it” ~ Kerry Hudson

“Intensely moving” ~ Katie Khan

“Superb – so confident and deft and skilfully written” ~ Louise O’Neill

the review:

The advance praise for this novel seems to have been quite universally, overwhelmingly positive — and quite deservedly so. It also seems to exhaust most of the adjectives I would want to describe this book and my impressions of it in my review.

The fact is, How I Lose You is an intensely moving and thoroughly captivating and immersive book. It is “Intriguing, poignant and totally absorbing”, as Ruth Hogan describes it. It is intense and moving, powerful and masterful, compelling and addictive and tender and sad and at the same time witty and sensible, and deft and pacy, and confidently and skilfully written.

It is also, and most of all, an extremely beautiful story, albeit a rather sad and tragic one, told in a rich, lyrical and intimate voice which pulls the unwitting reader into the heart of the narrative straight from the beginning, and holds them there, breathless and enthralled. We identify with Eva, the main character of the story; we commiserate with her; we feel her immense pain and grief; we feel her loss, her emptiness, her devastation. We feel her doubts, her longing, her frustration, each of her tentative steps, her hesitations.

Structurally, the story is told retrospectively by Eva, starting on the eve of Adam’s death and ending the very moment their love story starts, i.e., on the evening when they kiss for the first time. There are also a series of flashbacks along the way, which help contextualize events as we become acquainted with Eva and Adam’s story.

You’d be wrong to think that this is just another love story, though, as How I Lose You is much more than that. It is a masterful reflection on, and exploration of, the devastation of loss and the emptiness it leaves behind, gnawing away inside you; and also on the nature of grief itself. At the same time, the story explores the nature of relationships, how much we share and  how much we hide from each other — even those closer to us — and whether we ever really know those around us, including those we love the dearest.

I am completely bowled over by this novel, and especially by the fact that this is a debut novel, such is its level of proficiency and accomplishment. In fact, if I were to set verisimilitude as the litmus test for quality in fiction, McNaughton’s prose would take an unchallenged first prize. Her linguistic mastery and the narrative format of choice come together to give the story a feeling of authenticity akin to that we usually associate with memoirs and autobiographies; and, several times as I was reading it, I had to remind myself that How I Lose You is but a work of fiction: that’s how real this narrative feels, and such is Kate McNaughton’s mastery as a storyteller.

the verdict:

This is a rich and poetic, beautiful, beautifully written book, poignant and heart-wrenching but  thoroughly captivating and immersive. I do not frequently find books that engage me to the degree McNaughton’s debut novel managed to, and I am very happy I had the opportunity to read it. I can safely say that I recommend it wholeheartedly — and that it’ll be joining that other pearl of my last twelve months of reading, Jamie Quatro’s Fire Sermon, on the shelf reserved for my very favouritest books.

Genre pegging: Literary Fiction / Science Fiction & Fantasy
Verdict: a rich and poetic, poignant and thoroughly immersive read
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥
Shelves:
literary fiction; my favouritest books;


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