REVIEW: Writers and Lovers by Lily King

In brief: All that’s holding Casey together is the novel she’s been writing. She’s lost her mum, her relationship has ended and she’s a waitress in her thirties. But then two very different men enter her life…

The good: It’s honest, gripping and relatable.

The not-so-good: I read it in a couple of days (it was that good).

Why I chose it: Several recommendations from people whose book tastes I trust.

Year: 2020

Pages: 324

Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)

Setting: America

Rating: 10 out of 10

Writers and Lovers is an incredibly moreish book – once you start to read, you just can’t stop. It has a spellbinding quality to it, even though the storyline isn’t 100% original. It’s just in the way the story is told.

The novel is about Casey, who is living in a shed trying to make ends meet as a waitress. Her passion is for writing, but she’s been working on the same novel for six years and it’s still not finished. Her relationship has crumbled and her mother has died unexpectedly. Casey is lost and barely hanging on emotionally and financially. Her solaces are small – with the friends she has left in town (the others having married and/or moved away) and the ducks that gather on the river. But things are slowly looking up and there are glimmers of hope. She meets Silas and things look promising until he disappears suddenly. He has things going on and at 31, Casey is weary of all the games. She’s falling apart physically (there is a ‘so-frustrating-it’s-amusing’ subplot on the absurdities of American health care) too but has to hang on to a job that’s becoming untenable for the health insurance. That’s when Oscar comes on to the scene. An older man and a writer to boot, he comes with baggage of a different sort – children (who are adorable), grief and experience. Suddenly Casey is caught between two men and things are starting to look up for her personally. Who should she choose?

What gradually comes to light as the novel progresses is that the story is not set in the days of mobile phones and internet. It’s set somewhere in the 1990s and Casey is reliant on two things for communication – her answering machine at home and getting messages at the restaurant where she works. It’s a nice little quirk for missed connections, waiting to speak to someone and just generally not being in contact 24/7. It also means that everyone is a lot more present and wanting to meet up in person – or even speak on the phone! Apart from this, the novel doesn’t seem dated by the setting. (If anything, it feels very fresh – the concepts might be familiar but the writing is superb).

Casey is a character with hidden depths. She’s a writer, and a frustrated one at that, feeling left behind by her peers almost like a fraud. She’s also hurting with the loss of her mother, which leads her to ask some questions at inappropriate times. She feels lost and adrift and this translates well to the page, especially when Casey is faced with conflict. There’s a great scene with her father in the restaurant that is both awkward and disgusting in equal measures. King is great at making the reader feel what Casey is going through. You can’t help but support her, even when she makes some silly decisions.

Writers and Lovers is a wonderful read with a great rhythm, almost mesmerising. I dare anyone to be able to put it down.

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