‘Tell the truth, her grandmother had always said. Speak it, whatever it is. Do what you must do but do not lie about what it is that you do. Do not call it something else. Call it what it is.’
Alex Miller’s Lovesong is a novel that will make a weary, withered soul plump and grateful (and not only because the word ‘pastries’ appears very frequently). This is a book that uncovers the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. It shows us what may happen when our lives as we imagined they would be, and our lives as we live them, are misaligned. It is a gentle study in cognitive dissonance.
Ken is purporting to be a ‘retired’ writer, and has returned from Venice to live in Carlton with his adult daughter Clare. While trying to fill his newly empty days, Ken meets John Patterner and is fascinated by his past. On a rainy day in Paris many years earlier, John took refuge in a café, Chez Dom, which was run by Tunisian immigrants Houria and her niece Sabiha. John and Sabiha fell deeply in love, were married, and eventually took over the running of the café. Despite the closeness of their relationship, their life together failed to correspond to their individual long-held dreams. For Sabiha, it was her child who was missing. For John, it was the work he intended to do as a teacher in Australia. To what lengths would they go in pursuit of the lives they always thought they would lead?
Miller’s writing is straightforward, warm and spiced with just enough humour. Simple moments in the daily life of his characters are clearly described and have the ring of truth. While there are some implausible aspects to the story’s critical event, the sincerity of this novel as a whole makes it irresistible. The story has been allowed to take precedence over showy writing. No word is wasted. Above all, it is a novel that can be devoured with absolutely no adverse consequences for the health of your soul or otherwise.
‘It was a lovely Melbourne autumn day. Autumn is the best time of the year in Melbourne. The oppressive heat of summer is gone and the sun gives just the right amount of warmth to be comfortable without a jacket or a cardigan, no wind and maybe just one or two innocent white clouds going by. You have to be here. People are happy on days like this.’