Slower Read: Never Anyone But You by Rupert Thomson, 2018, 9781590519134.
You know how a book review or dust cover will say, "Beautifully written"? What the fuck is that supposed to mean? I think this novel is beautifully written but I am at a loss to describe how or why. Should I type in some excerpts and analyze Thomson's writing? Because I will not.
Never mind that reviews that focus on "beautiful" like that are a cop-out; they invariably skip any plot description and say things like "a tour de force" or "an emotional experience". A 5-second internet video of a crashing bicyclist in France can make me cringe. That video provokes a physical response so could I describe that as a "Tour de France emotional experience"? [When it comes to bad reviews don't get my wife started about poetry book reviews in Booklist or Library Journal. Those reviews are a waste of time.]
Anyhoo. I reserved this novel off a review or after I read an excerpt and I decided to give it a whirl. I then got sucked in by the writing and language. But, the "sucking in" turned to "this sucks" in the last 50 pages. Beautiful writing may be beautiful but there was not enough plot and action to keep me there. Make your own analogies about beautiful people with no personality or brains.
Suzanne and Lucie meet when they are young teenagers in 1909 France. They immediately fall for one another. But, they're only about 17 and 14 years old and unable and unwilling to risk sharing those feelings. They end up very close friends and then become lovers after a year or two.
Homosexuality is, of course, very frowned upon. "Frowned upon" is code for "Might be sent to an insane asylum or given brain surgery if you are gay". Suzanne and Lucie keep their romance secret. When their widowed parents remarry each other the two young women have a ready excuse to spend all their time together and move in together. They are sisters after all, why not share an apartment?
We follow Suzanne and Lucie through their lives together. Lucie changing her to name to Claude and Suzanne to Marcel. Claude's difficult mental health and suicide attempts. Marcel's jealousy and stability. Marcel's work as an illustrator in 1920s Paris. Hanging out with famous artists and attending parties attended by people like Dali and Hemingway. Moving to the island of Jersey. Waging a two person anti-nazi propaganda campaign during the German occupation. Capture and imprisonment. The death of Claude in the early 1950s and Marcel's lonely life until her death 20 years later.
The writing really was beautiful at times. Thomson skips over a few years to keep things moving a bit. I think this ran about 50 pages too long. I did enjoy quite a bit of this as we follow along in their relationship. Marcel does most of the heavy lifting with Claude who comes off manic-depressive. Claude also forms some intense emotional relationships with men and other women leaving Marvel on tenterhooks about Claude's fidelity.