Some years ago I read a wonderful book by Alex Miller called Conditions of Faith, which I absolutely loved. It’s about a young Australian woman and is set in Paris and Tunisia. When I discovered that Miller’s latest novel, Lovesong, revisited these same countries, I couldn’t resist reading it.
Lovesong is narrated by Ken, an author who has retired feeling he has no more stories to tell. He lives comfortably, spending a portion of his year living in Melbourne with his unmarried daughter, and the rest in Venice. On his return from a trip to Venice he strikes up a friendship with a new neighbour, John Patterner who, with his beautiful Tunisian wife Sabiha, has opened a pastry shop near Ken’s house. As Ken and John’s friendship grows, John begins telling Ken his story.
John was a young Australian teacher travelling through Paris when a downpour led him to the shelter of Chez Dom, a restaurant run by a Tunisian woman, Houria, and her beautiful young niece, Sabiha. John and Sabiha fell in love at first sight and married, and after Houria’s death remained in Paris to run Chez Dom. Over time, their happiness becomes tarnished by Sabiha’s strong longing for the child they can’t seem to conceive, while John’s wish to return to Australia leaves him feeling as though his life is stagnating. As he listens, and delves into their secrets, Ken feels his desire to tell a story reawaken, which adds an extra dimension to the love story at the heart of the novel.
Beautifully written in spare, simple language, the novel is moving and thought-provoking. Another wonderful book by Alex Miller! HB $40. Fiona