'Love Songs and Lies' is the tenth book written by Libby Purves, who is perhaps slightly better known as a radio 4 broadcaster and Times columnist. However, in my opinion, she is also a wonderful author, and having read all her books, I feel that they just get better and better. This book was definitely a very enjoyable and absorbing read.
'Love Songs and Lies' is a retrospective novel, written in the first person by 'Sally', who now, well into middle age, is looking back over and reflecting on her somewhat colourful life! She tells of her time as an Oxford student back in the seventies, and in particular of her infatuation with fellow student and housemate Max, who throughout her life has been hugely influential. She looks back on these days with a mixture of emotions - some of the best days of her life but also tarnished because of her unhealthy obsession with Max. At that time she really hero worshipped him and even though he treated her rather badly, as far as she was concerned he could do no wrong!
She also shared a house with her friends - bright, confident, extrovert Marienka and down to earth, reliable, practical Katie. At one point Max's younger wayward brother comes to live with them and he and Sally form an immediate bond. It isn't love though because that is wholeheartedly reserved for Max!
However, after leaving university and discovering she is pregnant by Max (who apparently doesn't want to know), it is Marty who comes to her rescue and marries her and helps her to bring up her baby daughter, while continuing to live the life of a moderately successful rock star. They also form a song writing partnership which is where the 'love songs' part of the title comes in! Through both brothers Sally ultimately becomes involved with the parents, and starts to realise why both brothers are as they are. It reallys is a confused and mixed up family.
As the novel progresses and Sally looks back on her life, we witness many ups and downs and tragedies. Throughout her early twenties Max is always a strong presences until eventually she starts to see him for the cold selfish individual that he really is. She cuts all ties with the family and makes a new life for herself, but it is only years later when certain lies and fabrications come back to haunt her and she is faced with a heart rendering decision! You might be wondering what that is but of course I am not going to reveal it here - you will just have to read the book!
I thought this was a fabulous read and it was the sort of book that I really didn't want to put down. Also, when I actually finished reading it, I could have quite easily carried on reading more, I had become so engrossed in the life of Sally.
One of the things that I really liked about the book was that it was told from Sally's point of view looking back on her life. Because it was written in the first person, it was possible for her to be very reflective and at times, almost despairing of her younger behaviour. She is virtually saying to the reader that she cannot believe some of the things she did and especially she is incredulous of the way she idolised Max. Well, we've all been there haven't we? I certainly can look back on my life and think 'why on earth did I do that?' about certain events and people, and I can almost hear myself inwardly groan! That is what Sally seems to be doing at many points in the book! To counter this though, there are other times that she looks back fondly with a warm glow (which hopefully we can all do as well!)
I thought all the characters in the book were very strong. I really warmed to Sally, and I loved Marty. He was such a kind but misguided young individual! Even Max and his parents, I could feel sorry for. I think this is particularly true of Max, because he seemed to be a victim of his own upbringing! Even if I didn't like all the characters I did care about them!
I really enjoyed the way that, although the book is written in the present day, it took me back to the seventies and the eighties. Having grown up in these decades, it was a bit of a trek down memory lane especially when she talks about the different fashions.
It is also a story which is based around a number of difficult relationships. These sometimes go horribly awry either due to a web of lies or a misunderstanding - Sally's friendship with Marienka; her realationship with both Max and Marty; their relationship with their parents; and towards the end Sally's sometimes difficult relationship with her own daughter Charlotte. All of these are observed and depicted incredibly well, and as readers, I think it is easy to identify with these, because, to varying degrees, we have all been there!
So overall, I think this is a tremendously good read which is totally absorbing from the first place. I was equally smiling with Sally or despairing with her as she told her story, and definitely didn't want it to finish!
The book is published by Hodder and has a RRP of £6.99 although I think I bought my paperback in Tesco for £3.73. With just under four hundred pages, for such a good read, I think that is great value!
This book features Sally, Kate and Marienka. Three young women who meet as undergraduates in 1970s Oxford and share their romantically shabby canalside house with Max Bellinger - clever, attractive, enigmatic Max. Sally - our narrator - idolises Max, who is something of an homme fatale. But it is Max's wayward rock singer brother, Marty, who is to play the most important role in her life, when one of his songs (for which she provided the lyrics) becomes an unexpected hit. Although their paths diverge once they leave Oxford, Sally stays in touch with all the housemates and their lives remain interwoven throughout the momentous second half of the twentieth century.