When you consider what happens in Louise Doughty’s Whatever You Love, it’s a surprisingly quiet book. The slow deliberation of the prologue, the conscious shying away from the ranting and railing seems at odds with what one might expect, yet there’s a truth in such representation, in the detachment of remembering. There’s the thing about the quiet voices, though, they tend to make you lean in the better to hear.
Laura’s is a voice that from the off holds you at arm’s length, will not grant you access to the turmoil. As that opening paragraph has it, this is the muscle memory, the body being trusted while the mind cannot. We lean in and we listen to Laura talking through the numb bubble of her grief and we’re likely not conscious of the ever-rising tension, protected as we are by that bubble. We surely knew all along, though, when that perfect closing line of the epilogue comes, that we couldn’t escape the turmoil. It’s a reflex, unavoidable, muscle memory.
The book’s structure works really well. Aside from the prologue and epilogue there are two sets of ‘Before’ and ‘After’. What the repetition reinforces is the title: whatever you love – this is not only about the death of a child. Grief and all its attending angels are pertinent when someone is taken from us whether a death is involved or not. Again, there’s a great line to close out the first pass through Laura’s story, but the tension remains. There’s no sense of a gear change, rather a continual and inexorable loading of the already stretched elastic band so that by the time I reached the second ‘After’ I really wondered just how far Laura was prepared to go.
Laura’s is a story that plays to our most primal fears. It invites us to empathise with her, and (as with Doughty’s excellent Apple Tree Yard) it begs us to ask how far we’d be prepared to go, what we imagine we may be capable of in such extreme circumstances. It is a quiet read in its own way, but it’s also gripping.
Whatever You Love was published in 2010 by Faber & Faber ISBN:9780571254767
You can find Louise on Twitter @DoughtyLouise or on her website www.louisedoughty.com