The Art of Losing is a gripping debut from Rebecca Connell, a startling novel about betrayal, grief, and the inability to let go in all its psychological and claustrophobic complexity. Haunted by the childhood loss of her mother, Lydia, twenty-three-year old Louise sets out to find the man she believes was responsible for her death. Nicholas is now a middle-aged lecturer, husband and father who has never quite been able to shake off the events of his past. As he and Louise become close and Louise becomes closer still to Nicholas’ wife Naomi and their son, Adam, it becomes clear that Louise will cross any line to discover the truth.
As the narrative switches between the perspectives of Louise and Nicholas, including several flashback scenes that detail his passionate affair with her mother, the story gains momentum and an underlying sense of menace. Connell perceptively captures an illicit affair and its effect on everyone concerned without judgment or obvious overstatement. Sympathy, in fact, shifts back and forth, and the affair itself is not the only relationship that comes under scrutiny. As Louise entangles herself with Nicholas’s family, both stories begin to unravel and the truth, of course, is not what it seems.
It is a character-driven story, and those characters are exceptionally well drawn. Louise is undoubtedly troubled; she takes on her mother’s name and, at one point, fabricates the idea of a sibling. Lydia, despite only appearing in flashbacks and recollections, is a strong character in her own right. She’s a catalyst whose death shapes the lives of those around her. Nicholas is written so engagingly that it becomes difficult not to sympathise with his continued grief despite his infidelity and the repercussions decades later. Naomi too is sympathetic and accorded more than the role of the patient wife. Her grief, whilst better hidden, is just as realistic. Adam and his secure “happy” childhood offer a mirror to Louise’s more fractured and tragic version, and his subsequent confidence highlights Louise’s isolation and compulsion to punish Nicholas.
A meditation on loss and obsession from two perspectives, The Art of Losing is.a complex tale that’s effortlessly told, thrilling and intelligent.
Sarah Baker blogs at www.whatsarahreads.wordpress.com