How does one talk about love?
We are all beginners when it comes to love, from those tentative first dates to learning how to live with, or without, someone.But how does one describe love? How does one chart its delights and pleasures, its depths and desolations? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves?
David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary starts where we all once started — with the alphabet. Constructing the story of a relationship as a dictionary, Levithan explores the intimacies and workings of love through his nameless narrator, to paint a moving portrait of love through everyday words.
Cleverly using the confines of language to provide an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being part of a couple, Levithan gives us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
I’ve been a big fan of Levithan’s young adult books for some time, but it’s taken me a while to get around to reading The Lover’s Dictionary, his first book for ‘adults’. I’m not sure why it took so long, because I wanted to read it as soon as it came out. I’m so glad I finally have though, as, while small, it is (almost) perfectly formed, and a total delight to read.
One of the recognisable things in any of Leviathan’s books is how he captures emotions, and in The Lover’s Dictionary, it is no different. Covering the full gamut of joy and pain, hope and disappointment that can be felt in a relationship, it is even more impressive. Some of the ‘dictionary entries’ may only be a line or two, or even just a few words, but they always manage to pack a punch.
Following the alphabet rather than a traditional chronology, we’re never quite sure where we are in the relationship, a moment of perfect love, might be right next to the dark moments as an affair is discovered, which itself might be next to a moment of hope as we see first stirrings of love. It could be confusing, but it really, really works, and makes you “feel all the things”.
The only concern I have is, that, such is the brevity of the text, while we do get to experience the relationship, we don’t really get to ‘know’ the protagonists that well, it’s only a minor gripe, so well does Levithan construct the rest of the book.
A quick but entirely beautiful read, that will leave a mark much bigger that the book.
I thought I’d end with a few of my favourite extracts:
I spent all this time building a relationship. Then one night I left the window open, and it started to rust.
We have fallen though the surface of want and are deep in the trenches of need.
You couldn’t believe the longest relationship I’d ever been in had only lasted for five months.
“Ever?” you asked, as if I might have overlooked a marriage.
When I die, you memories of me will be my greatest accomplishment. Your memories will be my most lasting impression.
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