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I am drawn to love stories easily, like a moth to a porch light — I’m a romantic at heart. But I soon grow sick of them, because as well as being a romantic, I’m a pragmatist and a Kiwi. So first I think, aww… and then I think, yes, well, all right then, no need to go on about it.
A Tale of Love is a passionate, tumultuous narrative of transformative love. There is Ylane, a young woman wrestling with depression, and there is Ivan, running from his abusive father and unable to stop, and there is, in a likeable twist, the author herself, speaking as the obvious creator of both these lives. The author is haunted by the bird of ill omen, a personification of her drive to write conflicting with her own insecurities. But she persists, and is engulfed by her lovers in their mad world.
Ylane and Ivan first meet in a psychiatric hospital, where she is struggling with a depressive relapse, and he has just attempted suicide as a result of an extended manic episode. Their first shared glance is immediately felt as a new beginning, as fate, as if this was what their lives had been building to.
As a romantic, I was caught up in it all. But, skeptically, I still wondered if this was possible, if love really was, or should be, this insane. The mental torment afflicting the two main characters was almost unbearable, so honest and frightening and black in the way that it was, that I felt I was drowning a little bit in this too.
I must add, Lê’s novel was translated from French into English by Victoria University’s own Sian Robyns, which is very cool, and she did a fantastic job recreating the feel of the French grammatical rhythm. Quite lovely.