Speaking of Love by Angela Young

           Speaking of Love examines the weave of a complex web of relationships within a family plagued by mental illness. The story bounces between past and present, juxtaposing the history of the characters’ failure to express their love for those closest to them and its future psychological effects. Iris begins the story as a young girl whose mother’s early death leaves her father emotionally stunted and painfully estranged from his daughter. Unable to communicate her grief, Iris retreats into herself and her imaginary world of story-telling. Soon her stories start to take on a literal presence in her life and the book charts her slow descent into schizophrenia. Iris’ relationship with her daughter, Vivie, rapidly deteriorates in tandem with her mental state and Vivie spends her adult life struggling to cope with the unanswered questions and haunting memories of her mother’s mental breakdown and her father’s disappearance; without the reassurance of familial bonds of love, her world gradually falls apart. Their neighbours, Dick and his son Matthew, embark on a journey together, reliving the experience of committing Iris to an institution, whilst Matthew struggles to cope with the consequences of his unspoken love for Vivie.

            The tragedy of this story is that each of Young’s lonely and psychologically isolated characters are immediately surrounded by the people whose bonds will help them to find their feet, yet the very intensity of their feeling for each other prevent them for asking for the help they need. The terrifying and dangerous world of mental illness twists the perceptions of the family so that their love for each other is unrecognisable. At the same time of advocating openness as the solution for developing strong relationships, the story also seems to idealize the idea of self-development, and the internal struggles that only the individual can come to terms with.

            The book is extremely well planned – the details crucial to making up the jigsaw of complicated family history come together at exactly the right points in the story to keep the reader intrigued. It is a very human approach to the causes of mental deterioration and although the overall tone is touching, the eerie and unsettling presence of disease is acute and strongly supports the story’s veracity. Due to the intense emotional content, the chapters are kept short and flit rapidly between characters so that the plot isn’t drowned in self-indulgent psycho-analysis. Despite this, each character draws the reader in to their individual dilemmas and painful experiences and the story connects on a deeply personal level, especially with anyone who has experience with mental illness in the family, or has ever encountered the difficulty of telling someone that you love them.

 

 

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