In a continuation of our series of micro-reviews, assistant editor Brandon Williams brought together a group of ardent readers to give their quick-hit impressions of recent novels which have won major awards from the literary world. Ingrid Persaud’s Love After Love, recent winner of the 2020 First Novel Award from the Costa Book Awards, is our next selection.
Quick Book Summary (from the official blurb): “After Betty Ramdin’s husband dies, she invites a colleague, Mr. Chetan, to move in with her and her son, Solo. Over time, the three become a family, loving each other deeply and depending upon one another. Then, one fateful night, Solo overhears Betty confiding in Mr. Chetan and learns a secret that plunges him into torment.
Solo flees Trinidad for New York to carve out a lonely existence as an undocumented immigrant, and Mr. Chetan remains the singular thread holding mother and son together. But soon, Mr. Chetan’s own burdensome secret is revealed, with heartbreaking consequences.”
Love After Love is an emotional dive into how death, traumas, and fear change us, our families, and our paths toward healing. Persaud’s prose is an invaluable part in this book of reflection on what it means to go on living after parts of us and parts of our families die, and it’s what makes this read so compelling. Her prose carries the rhythm and cadence of a Trinidadian accent and vernacular, something that takes readers’ hands and draws them to follow; it is as if readers are sitting with the characters as they go through the rough, tangible, and visceral changes life brings them when trauma hits hard. Persaud’s flow and descriptive writing in a close first-person point of view illustrates too that we all take to pain differently. Its rawness, its hopes, its difficulties, its weight even as the characters try to heal, to live and love again—pain in Love After Love is the foil to love, showing the complexities that form when both are present in one’s heart.
There are three perspectives Persaud gives us—Betty, the domestic abuse victim whose freedom from her abusive husband, Sunil, cost her much; Solo, her son, who comes to battle with loving her and hating her after he overhears the truth of his father’s death from his mother; and lastly, we follow Mr. Chetan, a gay man struggling with his identity and his desire to be loved fully, have family, and exist in his truth. Betty shows us how an abuse victim struggles to find self-confidence and self-love after battered woman syndrome picked her apart, piece by piece, and has led her to believing her relationships with men must be loveless to thrive. Solo becomes broken when he learns the truth of his father’s passing; he takes flight to America to live with his father’s family, which leads to him struggling to find peace, home, security, and belonging, all the while fighting too against the pains of his mental health. Mr. Chetan allows readers to bear witness to how finding love in a homophobic society leads to keeping many secrets, leads to short-lasting traipses with lovers, and even leads death.
These three people experience pain while trying to love, and they seek love even when the pain is too much. They never give up on love underneath it all, as love is all they have when life and trauma attempt to break them. Love After Love shows us both how love exists after loss, even if it is fleeting. Persaud teaches us that we must open our eyes to the complexities of how the hurt and the weakened experience love as something not so black and white as it seems on the surface.
Ingrid Persaud’s debut novel, Love After Love at its best reminds readers how when crafted in the right hand’s fiction has the powerful ability to make the ordinary in life feel extraordinary. Set in modern-day Trinidad, the novel highlights the multifaceted nature of experiencing love through the eyes of the three main characters Betty Ramidin, Solo Ramidin, and Mr.Chetan who come to live together after an explosive opening with the death of Betty’s husband Sunil.
With expert ease, Persaud’s novel navigates familial, parental, romantic, platonic, and sexual love while also striking a unique balance in plot and tone by using nuance and challenges to love such as addiction, abuse, depression, lies, regret, trauma, time, and self-hate. What I cherished most was Persaud’s delicate use of exploring the ordinary, small day-to-today actions that build our understanding of love such as dinner conversations, quiet moments helping the family in the garden, or small physical gestures to illustrate these larger complex ideas. Most importantly, tackling themes such as homosexuality and suicide can often lead to trope-ridden or overdramatic stories. However, Persaud avoided these potential problems by bringing a level of consideration and softness in her descriptions of these moments that the result reads harrowingly authentic.
Moreover, if the story alone wasn’t enough to keep the reader going, Persaud’s careful craft choices work to build a compelling world for the reader to immerse themselves in. From page one, you hear the book more so than read it because of her choice to use colloquial language in Trinidadian dialect—impressively she also balances this in a way that each character still sounds unique unto themselves in their narration.
Persaud is a master at using sensory details, you could almost smell Betty’s cascadoux curry or Mr. Chetan’s famous sweetbread and feel the love that these characters put into their meals for their family.
Overall, Love After Love has the potential to become a classic on any ardent fiction reader’s shelf simply because it fulfills the need of why we want to read fiction—to enjoy a meaningful and well-told story.
In Love After Love, Ingrid Persaud creates a rich world with her colloquial prose and superb mastery of the senses. It’s easy to relate to the characters once you’ve bought into the world so completely, and I found myself deeply connected to the novel’s three protagonists, the widowed Betty Ramdin, her son Solo, their lodger Mr. Chetan, and the alternative family they create together.
As the title implies, the novel covers love in its many different forms. At its core, however, I believe it’s about loneliness and shame. These feelings pour off of every page. Betty, whose abusive husband dies at the start of the book, feels cursed by his ghost, and a shameful secret haunts her throughout the novel. Mr. Chetan, a closeted gay man, lives in fear of being found out and in a constant state of loneliness, unable to love openly. Solo flees Trinidad to live the life of a lonely illegal immigrant, constantly worried that he isn’t working hard enough, that he isn’t enough.
The only cure for these feelings is acceptance, but even that is not enough sometimes. When it comes, it’s powerful. Have tissues handy; I can’t remember the last time a book made me cry the way this one did. Still, the novel, and the poem from which the title is taken, suggest that until we find acceptance within, we cannot have peace.
As it covers a wide range of time, some jumps are more jarring than others. At times, especially in the first quarter of the book, I felt certain chapters dragged while I wanted more from others. If you feel the same, my advice would be to stick with it. You will be rewarded tenfold.
Curated by Brandon Williams