Life is rarely a walk in a park: the happy-ever-after so desperately craved is often overshadowed by insurmountable hurdles that arise in our day-to-day lives. Author Alice Peterson realises these obstacles and attempts to overcome them in a novel that is both heartfelt and heartbreaking.
The Things We Do for Love tells the story of a single mother’s struggle to cope with her conflicting personal and professional lives. Throughout the novel, she juggles raising her daughter, Isla, who suffers from cerebral palsy, with her job as an estate agent’s PA. As the story progresses, her past and present intertwine in complicated circumstances. The novel explores all forms of love: from family love to forbidden love, from broken love to moments of reconciliation.
In the first-person, Peterson depicts January’s struggle to find balance within her day-to-day life. The departure of charismatic boss, Jeremy, leads to the arrival of his replacement, the reserved Ward, complicating matters further. As time passes, January becomes dangerously close to her married boss, while being pursued by her company’s rival, Spencer. Her chaotic love life is set in contrast to her ex-lover and Isla’s father, Dan, and his seemingly stable relationship with Fiona. Love life aside, at the heart of the novel is January’s struggle to bring up Isla, whilst coming to terms with her oft-debilitating illness. This difficult subject matter gives the story depth beyond what could be perceived as shallow romantic conflict.
The story grapples with common yet pressing existential issues: love, conflict, illness, survival, and death. Peterson writes: “When someone you love dies, the stars and sun disappear and it takes a long time to see light again”, highlighting the anguished nature of the novel from the beginning. Universal concepts like these, interwoven with January’s personal trials, provide the reader with food for thought.
Time plays an indispensable role within the novel. The book alternates between different periods of January’s life, adding depth to her circumstances. Flashbacks reveal a string of tragic setbacks for January: from losing her parents at a young age, to finding herself pregnant and alone after Daniel’s swift departure. This emotive exploration of January’s strife is shown as the root-cause of Isla’s slow development. Luck does not seem to be in January’s favour, as her estranged workaholic brother adds to the weight on her shoulders.
Thankfully, Peterson does not allow the novel to descend in a Dante-esque circle of misery and punishment for January. There is an intense beauty that enriches the novel, particularly in Peterson’s picturesque depiction of Cornwall. The nostalgia associated with January’s county and her grandparents’ family home is the silver lining in her stormy childhood, as well as a welcome source of humour.
As the novel reaches its conclusion, the pace intensifies. Complications amass, and it seems that January has no way out. And yet, the ending is a happy one: January sees the light that has been eclipsed for most of her adult life. In a somewhat peaceful and understatement denouement, January, Isla and the reader are rewarded, and its celebratory close is an uplifting end to a story of unbelievable survival.
The Things We Do for Love by Alice Peterson (Quercus Publishing Ltd. 2015)
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