Back in 2020, I read and shared my thoughts on two novels by a new publisher, V&Q Books; these were “Paula” and “Journey Through a Tragicomic Century” (which you can read about here), and both were fascinating reads. V&Q have gone from strength to strength, and recently were kind enough to send me one of their latest titles – “Love Novel” by Ivana Sajko, translated from Croatian by Mima Simic. I’m not sure if I’ve read anything Croatian before, so that’s an exciting first; and the book itself is striking and very memorable.

“Love Novel” is the story of an unnamed married couple struggling with life and their relationship in an unnamed European country. The man is an unemployed Dante scholar attempting to write; the woman is a fairly average actress who made the mistake of not only falling for the man, but also giving up her regular job at the theatre to look after the couple’s baby. The strain of lack of money, an unstable location and the fact that they have nowhere to turn is bringing their relationship to the brink and it’s not clear whether it (or them!) will survive.

The publicity blurb describes the book as a “Furious anti-love story” and that’s not far from the truth. The couple are suffering from lack of sleep, the strain of dealing with a small child (mostly being borne by the woman) and there is a sense that the pair didn’t really know each other than well before the pregnancy and marriage came along. So they circle each other, lash out and struggle to stay sane enough to make a living. The man finds himself drawn into a public protest against the authorities; and their neighbours add pressure by expecting them to contribute to improving the appearance of the block of flats. A brief period where they both manage to grab temporary jobs brings a little respite; but not for long; and it soon becomes clear that the little family unit can’t stay in their small flat for much longer… What will become of them is anybody’s guess.

It has to be said that “Love Novel” is not necessarily an easy read; seeing two characters in extreme emotional conflict is painful to say the least. What makes the book stand out so much, however, is the writing; Sajkno’s narrative with its long, fluid sentences drags you into a maelstrom where you experience the whirlwind of the couple’s emotions first-hand. It’s intense and immersive writing, and does leave you a bit breathless. The narrative very cleverly doesn’t take sides, allowing you to see events from both male and female perspective; and though both have their faults, you can’t help but hope they’ll find a way through…

So my third read of a V&Q turned out to be a really powerful and thought-provoking work. It’s a book which is of its time, capturing the pressures and the fragmented lives being lived in what the blurb calls late capitalism; but it also highlights the eternal differences between men and women, society’s expectations of both and the sheer difficulty of one human being understanding another. Forcefully and brilliantly written, “Love Novel” is a book which will demand your attention and one you’ll struggle to put down!

(Review copy kindly provided by the publishers, for which many thanks!)