“…love, she discovered, was like anything else. It was a habit of the heart. You gave yourself to it, and then followed on day after day, tracing ever deeper the unchangeable track of emotions”,
While this was not a deliberate choice of novel for the month of love (Yippe!), I am sort of thrilled that this review is coming in February. Love! The universal language across the world! The language that knows no tongue, color or religion! There will always be diverse definitions of love, especially the love between a man and a woman, but everyone will agree that love gives joy sometimes adds sorrow to it and weaves emotions as lovers progress on its path.
This book by Niall Williams is all shades of whimsical. Love dances off its pages with profound similes, vivid imageries, and an evocative narration that keeps the pages turning up until the very last page.
The story gives the reader no idea where it is going for the most part. It starts off with a boy’s narration of how his father hears from God to be a painter and leaves his family (son and wife) to follow the voice of God. This singular act spins the thread of fate that eventually connects the lead character to someone who he falls (headlong) in love with.
However unlike many love stories, the story is not that straightforward; in this unpredictable love story, there are twists in the plot. It is this unpredictability that makes the story quite striking.
What I found most endearing about the book was the magic of poetry interwoven into the story. Words cascaded clearly like a waterfall, beauty streamed from the force of the love felt by each character that had to answer to it. I was mesmerized by the accuracy of some of the lines in the description (not definition) of love and then of other human experiences like grief, suffering and guilt.
In interpreting the title “Four Letters of Love” I was able to find a web of four different love stories. First the love between the lead character’s parents, a love that began as unrequited, then the magic of a change of heart (helped along by a heartfelt love letter) and the eventual marriage. A love that ends quite sadly after the surprising choice of career by one party.
Then there is the love story between Isabel Gore and Peader O’Luing. Theirs is a love that fires up so strongly in the heart of Peader and slowly captures the heart of Isabel. Alas the heat of that love wanes in Peader once Isabel picks up the baton of love and therein lies the tragedy of their love story. The author describes Peader’s feeling so well when he says “…the requiting of love had sent a deep shock through him, stirring sudden moods of restlessness and rage he didn’t understand”… he didn’t understand yet that it was in fact her loving him he hated, that the moment Isabel gave herself to him she fell from the high place in the stars where Peader had first put her.”
Along comes the love story of Isabel’s parents. Margaret, Isabel’s mother falls in love with a poet. So enamored of Muiris Gore was she that “…each time Margaret saw him after that her heart filled like a pool. She imagined when she closed her eyes that her insides were overflowing with happiness and that it wasn’t possible to feel more”.
Margaret writes the simplest, most expressive Love letter I have ever seen where she says to Muiris Gore, “Dear Muiris dear, dear, dear, take me away with you. Your Love, Margaret”.
Muiris Gore does take her away with him to an island where her love changes form. She soon realizes that “…there was to be an emptying as much as a filling of her heart with love, and that as much as her heart had expanded and grown in the first girlish weeks of love in Donegal, filling her until bursting, now in the years left, there was to be the slow drop by drop bleeding back of it all.”
Finally Nicholas, the lead character’s love story is told of the love he has for Isabel Gore. His is a love so fiery it burns him up in fever. He writes four letters. The first three of which are promptly and stealthily burnt up by Margaret, Isabel’s mother who believes that it is only wise that her daughter does not receive the letters.
His second letter describes his feeling: “it’s a kind of madness, I know, this continual haunting in my blood. It runs along my arteries, I feel it in every part of me, a longing to be in touch with you, to be writing down words that you will read.”
The reader is soon to find that all the four letters written by Nicholas do not get to Isabel but the ending of the story gives hope. It tells the reader that love predestined cannot be stopped and so the reader is left to imagine that Isabel and Nicholas will have their day in the fields of love.