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August 7, 2017 | by  | in Books |
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Aspects of Love — David Garnett

David Garnett’s 1955 novel Aspects of Love (adapted as a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1989) is about a group of rich people of various ages sleeping around with each other while travelling through Europe’s postcard locations. This book is not merely a depiction of the shallow lives of rich people, but a warning to all of us if we pursue our desires unrelentingly.

It’s a simple read, though you may be searching for something a little longer and fleshed out. This is the downfall of the novel. Garnett employs a technique where in each chapter, years have passed. I finally felt like I understood the characters, but then the book was finished. If the author slowed down a little, stayed in the scenes and explained more detail, the reader could connect with the story easier.

The main character Alex is expelled from school and wants to join the army. He falls in love with a rich actress, Rose. Alex’s uncle, Sir George, falls for Rose as well, and drama ensues as the uncle and nephew become rivals for Rose’s affections. I was shocked by how easy it was for them to lie, to cheat on their partner, or fall into violence when they didn’t get their way. Rather than simply being melodramatic, these characters represent how we can compromise our morals and “lose ourselves” when we do not get what we truly want. Sir George at first hides his feelings for Rose out of respect for his nephew, but over time his own passions take over and he disregards any hurt feelings Alex may have. Garnett conveys this beauty and yearning for love among several characters. Whether it was an old man, a young soldier, or an aspiring actress, the characters feelings are real and tangible.

It is a short book that took me two days to read, but it spans over 20 years. All the characters really do is sleep together in rich villas, argue about their sex lives, and go to expensive restaurants. We can look down on these uber-rich characters, call them snobbish and out of touch with reality. But Garnett is using them for a specific purpose. It is easy to read a book through our own prejudices and say “screw the rich, I want to read about reality.” This is, however, a device Garnett uses to create a vacuum. These people have all the opportunities in the world to relate to each other without the excuse of long days at work to fall back on. They may seem petty and shallow, but what made me care about them, and not just dismiss their issues, was what they show about the universal human condition. If we examine our own behaviour when it comes to relationships and not getting what we want, we can come across as shallow and obsessing over the trivial. What I liked the most about the characters was their honesty.

My favourite moment of the book was the opening chapter when Alex, having watched every night of Rose’s performance on stage, asks if she wants to stay with him at his uncle’s unused villa in France. Alex’s uncertainty and nervousness when he asked her, and his excitement when she says yes, really set up the themes of the novel. Love can make us on top of the world, or can sink us right down to the very bottom. Right now in 2017 we are in an exciting period as we slowly depart the cynical postmodern scepticism of romance and emotional feelings. George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo, longlisted for the Man Booker, celebrates the sentimentality of family love. Local Wellington writer, Pip Adam, also writes back against this cynicism in her new book The New Animals. It is great to be able to witness this exciting movement happen in our own time. Perhaps now we can read old books like Aspects of Love and examine them with respect towards the subject matter. Upon finishing the book you may feel like hosting a fancy dinner party at your flat or falling in love with a stranger at a bus stop. For me, I sat down and listened to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music. Michael Ball singing Love Changes Everything perfectly captures the insanity and all-consuming nature of strong romantic feelings.

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