Keiran Goddard’s debut novel ‘Hourglass’ captures love misplaced



By Kieran Goddard
Europa: 208 pages, $25

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Is there something new to say with regards to love? No — however who cares? Romance makes fools of us all, and a love story properly instructed invitations us to indulge in our shared foolishness, which is to say our shared humanity.

The greatest love tales show the clichéd recommendation supplied to aspiring writers: common resonance springs from specificity. From “The Age of Innocence” to “The Worst Person in the World,” the tales that really feel everlasting are those who illuminate ardour and heartbreak by characters’ idiosyncrasies. Often, the weirder they’re, the higher.

We can now add to this canon “Hourglass,” the debut novel by British poet Keiran Goddard. The template is a traditional: Boy meets lady, boy loves lady, boy loses lady. But the supply — a sequence of intimate, offbeat, typically hilarious musings on a relationship, from first blush to post-breakup drinks — is a extremely entertaining shock. At first look, the textual content appears to be like like prose poetry: well-spaced, economical paragraphs of two or three traces. But the format belies the efficiency of the writing. This will not be an ethereal ode; the exhausting truths of affection and loss are boiled down right here. If the novel had been a sauce, it could be a discount.

The unnamed narrator of “Hourglass,” an aspiring author on a spartan weight loss plan of apples and bran flakes, toils at a bookstore, not hand-selling literary fiction however unloading bins from a supply palette late at night time to the blaring sound of discuss radio. He sleeps on his couch and is all the time chilly. Against a bleak backdrop of repetitive guide labor, it appears like “whole weeks never happened.” That is, till love arrives within the type of a fellow author in a blue costume, and the narrator is remodeled. Almost towards his needs, he catches happiness “like a disease,” changing into much less lonely but additionally much less judgmental.

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“I’ve become the type of person,” he says, “who…doesn’t actually get all that annoyed when people talk about psychogeography and palimpsests when all they really mean is that they walked around for a bit.”

The relationship’s embodied pleasures and eccentricities are cataloged in intimate handle to this (now ex-)girlfriend. He remembers that on their first date “you ate two small tangerines” and that whereas sleeping, “your legs looked like dolphins.” In the mornings, he stays in mattress to observe her brush her “oil spill of slick, wet hair.” (In a perverse present of devotion, he eats a ball of it.) He asks if she’s going to chew up potato and push it into his mouth as if he had been a child chook: “I remember that you said you didn’t mind. And I remember that you did it.”

Because it’s clear the narrator is wanting again on a relationship that has ended, these small, often revolting particulars purchase gravity. And they’re solely gross for not being our personal; in spite of everything, these are the sorts of moments that accumulate in all romantic relationships. What do they quantity to as soon as it’s over?

The reply to that query could also be a thriller. Less mysterious are the explanations behind this relationship’s finish. The narrator is a difficult accomplice. He copes with uneasiness by consuming excessively and rattling off half-baked theories and the sorts of trivia sometimes collected by a 12-year-old boy, just like the distinction between a knife and a dagger. Lobsters by no means die, he tells a “ham salad of a man” at a celebration. “The only thing that can kill them is if they don’t have enough energy left to shed their shells!”

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These frequent exclamatory asides do double responsibility: The punctuation suggests the raised quantity crucial on the crowded events the place he often interjects, and the content material conveys simply how annoying this character most likely is to these round him. (A sure meme involves thoughts.) Peppered all through are the titles of essays he has pitched to editors: “IRL and BRB No Longer Make Sense! There Is No RL So Where Would You Be RB from?” These headlines, typically very humorous, are additionally exclamations, telegraphing the desperation of the socially anxious.

Beneath the self-deprecating humor lurks a form of loser bravado. Of a special accomplice than the one this e-book is about, he says, “She tells me she finds me disgusting because I sometimes (once!) drink wine from a bowl and that living with me is like living with the sad ghost of a failed comedian.”

He’s a well-known kind, the form of one who finds his propensity to disappoint others form of amusing. It is, then, maybe not a shock that the story is one in all love misplaced, bookended by durations of loneliness. During one such interlude, the narrator makes an attempt to run a marathon, drunk, with none prior coaching. He vomits immediately and returns residence.

“Hourglass” suffers for its typically mawkish language, locations the place Goddard reaches for earnestness however sounds insincere, or simply immature. “Knowing you were coming back felt like expecting and remembering all at once,” he writes. Of the primary night time the narrator and his girlfriend have intercourse, he writes, “I remember that your skin was tight over your muscles. As if your skin was worried that your muscles were going to leave.” In a world-weary novel of blistering self-awareness and self-mockery, these are off notes.

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Still, the charms of “Hourglass,” like these of the narrator himself, are insidious. This is a tragic e-book that’s someway wickedly enjoyable to learn. Recollections of the materiality of affection (a hand, a costume, a chair) really feel timeless, however mingle artfully with offhand expressions of dread and alienation from trendy life. Together, they collect a poignant weight — and remind us that within the pursuit of an antidote to loneliness, we’re all typically pathetic.

Aron is the writer of “Good Morning, Destroyer of Men’s Souls: A Memoir of Women, Addiction, and Love.”