Magazine article The Spectator

Love Stories

Magazine article The Spectator

Love Stories

Article excerpt

Unexpected Lessons in Love by Bernadine Bishop John Murray, £16.99, pp. 384, ISBN 9781848547827 The Fault in our Stars by John Green Penguin, £7.99, pp. 336, ISBN 9780141345659 Unfortunately for the reading public, most of Bernadine Bishop's working life has been spent as a psychotherapist. Having published a couple of early novels, she put aside her pen, first to become a teacher, and then a shrink: it was only after cancer forced her retirement in 2010 that she turned again to writing.

I sincerely hope she is in remission now, not only for the sake of her own health and happiness, but so that she can write as many more books as possible.

Unexpected Lessons in Love is a wonderful novel, one of those rare books which leaves the reader with a deeper understanding of the human heart. It actually offers what its title proposes. Not that there is anything even remotely chocolate-boxy: herein are colostomy bags and whether sex is possible following their advent (one character wonders, vaguely, whether she 'even has a vagina' following surgery), an amusingly solipsistic novelist, a war correspondent, an ancient nun, a schizophrenic and a couple of babies, both brilliantly and unsentimentally brought to life on the page. Birth, adoption, marriage, friendship and death are all examined with a wry sympathy. Lack of selfknowledge is presented as a comic - and generally temporary - hiccup. I hesitate to use the word wisdom, for fear of making Bishop sound po-faced or, worse, like the author of a self-help guide. But wise she is.

It isn't perfect. There are too many cats (although, to be fair, only one and half of them are ascribed actual personalities) and just one rather pointless and unpleasantly slobbery dog. The names are maddening: a major character is called Cephas, while two leading men are easily confused, thanks to being given the almost interchangeable names Ian and Tim. There are places where the plot creaks a little. It may be that BerThe young people's pity for their soonto-be-grieving parents is a dreadful detail and touchingly realised ST VALENTINE S ' S DAY GIFT S WWW.RUFFS.CO.UK nadine Bishop is nicer than most people, for some of her characters come more easily to forgiveness, reconciliation and acceptance than you might expect in a random survey.

But these are cavils. This is an author of exceptional intelligence, subtlety and warmth. Expect to hear the name Bernadine Bishop when the lists for the Costa and Man Booker prizes are compiled later this year. …

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