Love After Love is a hilarious and heart-breaking story of choosing life after loss.
As an unconventional family in Trinidad – a widowed mother, her son, and their lodger – fall out late one night over a glass of rum, secrets are learned which break the family up, scattering them far from each other and the island.
Ingrid Persaud is a Trinidadian writer and winner of both the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and the 2018 BBC Short Story Award. Love After Love is Persaud’s debut novel and takes its name from the eponymous poem by Derek Walcott.
‘The time will come / when, with elation / you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror / and each will smile at the other’s welcome’.
‘The time will come’ rings true throughout Persaud’s novel as her characters tread that arduous path to loving themselves and letting themselves be loved. Persaud scores her novel with many strands of love – storge (familial), philia (affectionate love), pragma (enduring love), ludus (playful love) eros (romantic love) and philautia (self love) – as the reader watches them wind and unfold around the lives of Miss Betty, Mr Chetan, Solo and their supporting cast.
“It’s the little kindnesses he adds to my life,” says Miss Betty, thinking of Mr Chetan one day while cooking cascadoux, “like making me a smoothie or helping in the house when I’m tired. The idiot is still calling me Miss Betty. Occasionally it’s shortened to Miss B when he’s being playful.”
Love After Love is full of these captured love languages, as well as their hurtful siblings; Mr Chetan, present during a fraught phone call between Miss Betty and Solo, says “[Solo] didn’t give an inch and cut the talk down quick. The poor woman broke down. I wanted to cry too. Is true that child will eat mother but mother don’t eat child.”
Persaud writes authentically and observantly of the sinking effects of tenderness and cruelty on the human heart, for Love After Love is also a book about loss. The way Persaud writes grief is to be admired; it can rip through the body, be swallowed in spoonfuls every day, or curl up inside oneself and cut, cut, cut. But there is life after loss, love after love, and Persaud shows this time and again throughout the novel.
There is something about Love After Love reminiscent of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Both novels span decades and countries, contain great love and great loss, and meditate with fine-tuned nuance on trauma and the process of learning to love oneself. They speak to the abused, to the queer lives in difficult places, to the found families when your given one isn’t enough, to the complexity of human relationship, and to how difficult, and loving, we can be.
After years of a career in law and academia, Ingrid Persaud is a writer for whom it was well worth the wait. I look forward to re-reading Love After Love, and the works that must surely follow, in the years to come.