REVIEW: The Codes of Love by Hannah Persaud

In brief: Ryan and Emily seem to have it all, which Emily is sure is due to their open marriage and its rules. But then Ada arrives and Ryan falls in love, while Ada becomes a friend to Emily. Who will win Ada’s affection?

The good: It’s a fascinating, complex look at human nature.

The not-so-good: Sometimes it was a bit slow moving.

Why I chose it: Sounded a bit different, which is something I like in my books. Thanks to Bloomsbury for the copy.

Year: 2020

Pages: 266

Publisher: Muswell Press (Bloomsbury)

Setting: London and Wales

Rating: 8 out of 10

The Codes of Love is an intense read, dealing with multiple complicated issues within relationships (some of which I hadn’t even contemplated). It is a very detailed story with characters that are not necessarily likeable but fascinating. The intensity of feelings is in a similar vein to that in Sally Rooney’s Normal People but twenty years later when there are jobs, children and more life experience.

Emily and Ryan are a successful couple, with good careers, a plush house in London (with a swimming pool) and two teenage sons. To the casual onlooker, they have it all. But between the two of them, there are rules. They have an open marriage with a number of rules. But Ryan breaks one of those rules when he continues his fling with Ada beyond one night. For Ryan, Ada is the opposite to Emily – new, surprising and full of wonder. So when they buy a cottage in Wales together, it’s definitely breaking all of the rules. Could this be love? Emily isn’t exactly amused when Ryan takes a lover. It’s always been her who led by example with the rules of her marriage. Her life isn’t going as well, with an obsessed student making things difficult at work (and Emily isn’t exactly innocent in this case). So when she meets Ada at Ryan’s work party, their friendship leads to more fun than she has had in ages. The problem? Neither Emily nor Ryan know the depths of each other’s relationship with Ada. It can only end badly…

While The Codes of Love is essentially about a failing marriage, it’s also about things within that marriage. Power. Responsibility. Ageing. Emily has always held the power in the relationship and to see Ryan happy with someone else leads to a reduction in that power. Their children are also becoming more independent where Emily can’t control their movements. Ryan really doesn’t want the responsibility that goes with naughty teenage boys (deep down, he is secretly relieved when Emily wearily claims she will deal with it). Emily has to face the responsibility of a dalliance gone wrong. Finally, both Ryan and Emily are no longer a young couple – they have responsibilities to their children, their work and their actions even though sometimes neither of them really wants it. And what do they end up with? It’s a little open to interpretation but needless to say, it’s not really what either of them were expecting.

The story is written beautifully with densely layered prose that captures all of the feelings of the characters and their surroundings. It captures the highs of new love and the ugliness of the breakdowns in relationships. It’s not a fast read, but a deep examination of the depths of relationships.

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