In a Nutshell: The Secret Lives of People in Love is one of the most deeply absorbing and touching story collections I’ve ever read. Van Booy has an incredible ability to find beauty and insight in almost anything, and the way in which he turns those observations into words is nothing short of startling. He demonstrates that profound ability in this collection to the fullest, and that’s why I urge readers (especially those who like their prose a little more on the lyrical side), to rush out and buy a copy. You seriously won’t regret it, and you certainly won’t forget any of the stories that you will read. I can almost guarantee that.
OK, I know it’s taken me an absolute age between penning my forethoughts for The Secret Lives of People in Love (Beautiful Books) and offering up this, my final review, but truth be told I was worried about the Van Booy-shaped hole that would be left in my life when I finished it. A stupid thought to hold in one’s head I know, but such is my love for the short stories of Simon Van Booy, that I can’t bear to be without them (oh, have I inadvertently given away my final impressions on the collection already? Probably, but I’m sure it won’t come as any surprise to any regular RobAroundBooks reader what I may have thought). But of course all good things do come to an end, and having now finally turned the last page on this collection its time to collate my reviews of the individual stories, and pass on my final afterthoughts of the collection as a whole.
Kicking off these afterthoughts then is a rundown of my individual reviews for each of the stories in The Secret Lives of People in Love, along with links to those individual reviews. I’ve also included here my rating for each story, together with a brief quote from each mini review. My impressions on the collection as a whole continue below:
- Little Birds – ‘a short story that’s very hard to beat on an emotional kind of level’ – Rating:
- The Reappearance of Strawberries – ‘such is the eloquence of Van Booy’s prose that one leaves this story feeling both mournful and satisfied at the same time’ – Rating:
- As Much Below as Up Above – ‘Once again Van Booy has shown himself to be the undisputed master when it comes to exploring the human reaction to love and loss’ – Rating:
- Not the Same Shoes – ‘the poetry of Van Booy’s prose is as sublime and omnipresent as it always is, but for me the story itself is all too brief and in many much too vague to make much sense’ – Rating:
- Where They Hide Is a Mystery – ‘Again Mr. Van Booy has moved me greatly with another touching story that deals with the processes and consequences of loss’ – Rating:
- The World Laughs in Flowers – ‘Again, a hugely powerful and soul-searching tale from Van Booy’ – Rating:
- Some Bloom in Darkness – ‘The sheer beauty of Van Booy’s prose and the breathtaking imagery that his words throw up, is beyond description’ – Rating:
- Distant Ships – ‘A tale of loss that’s been told a thousand times. Thankfully however Van Booy seems to tell it in a more profound way to anyone else’ – Rating:
- No Greater Gift – ‘This may not be the most deep and philosophical tale that Simon Van Booy has ever written, but it stands out as one of the most adorable’ – Rating:
- Snow Falls and Then Disappears – ‘what begins as a simple tale of ‘man separates from woman’ soon becomes something much more profound’ – Rating:
- The Shepherd on the Rock – ‘Quite remarkable, in so many ways’ – Rating:
- Everything is a Beautiful Trick – ‘Again Van Booy paints a story so incredibly well that the sense of lose and longing is almost palpable’ – Rating:
- French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake – ‘Definitely one of the most pitiful and sombre stories that I’ve ever read, and I mean EVER!’ – Rating:
- Apples – ‘I particularly enjoyed the cosmopolitan feel of this one. Aside from anything else Van Booy gives a nice little snapshot of the cultural melting pot that is Brooklyn’ – Rating:
- Everyday Things – ‘I enjoyed this story but I like some of his others offerings slightly better’ – Rating:
- Conception – ‘the story’s small size holds much power’ – Rating:
- Save as Many as You Ruin – ‘Although I don’t believe this to be one of the most remarkable stories that Van Booy has penned to date, I believe it to be one of the most intimate, at least from the perspective of its author’ – Rating:
- The Still But Falling World – ‘This story is profound, it’s beautiful and it illustrates perfectly just how deft Simon Van Booy is, at turning an ordinary world into an extraordinarily caring one’ – Rating:
- The Mute Ventriloquist – ‘a slightly longer story than what I’m used to from Van Booy, but just like the rest of the stories in this collection it reads beautifully’ – Rating:
A collection that gels with power and punch
So, I think it’s clear that there wasn’t a story in The Secret Lives of People in Love that I didn’t like, so it must be a given that I loved the collection as a whole? Well I obviously did, but a big question always looms when it comes to short story collections – did the stories gel well together, and do they compliment one another? I’ve got to say yes and yes they certainly did, because the overall theme of the collection is one of love and lose, and every story certainly contains a strong element of these themes.
Strength of emotion
It is however the strength at which Van Booy explores the themes in this collection that is its most glorious triumph. Under the pen of this hugely competent writer, the stories come with such power and punch that one is highly unlikely to ever forgot most of them. Some writers provide the power and punch using shock and vivid imagery, Van Booy however delivers his ‘blows’ using acute observation, beautifully articulate language, and a deft ability to express the human condition (at least in relation to love and/or loss). His prowess in storytelling is quite remarkable and it’s a real wonder to behold.
Best of the bunch
A note of my favourite will perhaps reinforce the notion that a reader is highly unlikely to forget ever reading the majority of the stories in this collection. You may notice that I’ve only rated two in the collection a perfect five, but there are a good percentage of them which are only half a mark from the perfect score. And although I will remember all of the stories in this collection it is those which I have given the highest ratings to which affected me the most, emotionally. Take French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake. It’s a short tale, but I’m certain that you’ll never read anything as powerful, regardless of length . It’s about a woman trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building, following an earthquake. She’s suddenly and unexpectedly living out her final moments, and as I’m sure you can imagine this is one that really hits you in the heart. Never have I read any story as sorrowful as this.
Then there’s Some Bloom in Darkness, which earned the elusive ‘perfect score’. And it did so not only because of the brilliance of its imagery, but because of the profound emotion that is harboured within the story’s principle character, Saboné. Unforgettable!
Another favourite – Where They Hide Is a Mystery affected me not only because of its heartrending storyline but because of the uplifting concept that Van Booy comes up, as to what really happens to people when they die.
The other story I gave a perfect score too – The Still But Falling World, awarded not only because of its perfectly engaging storyline but also because it’s simply faultless.
A cosmopolitan selection
Moving on and as I said in my forethoughts Van Booy is well travelled, and you can tell as much from the stories to be found in The Secret Lives of People in Love. The collection takes us to multi-cultural streets of Brooklyn (Apples, No Greater Gift, As Much Below as Up Above) to Paris (Little Birds, Some Bloom in Darkness), from quaint Italian villages (The Still But Falling World) to the rain-soaked hills of Wales (Distant Ships), and other places in between. It’s true to say that the majority of stories are set, or partially set in New York, but the sense of the cosmopolitan – a tribute to Van Booy’s globetrotting ways – is clearly evident.
A perfect score
And so I come to the moment then, when I have to award a final score to The Secret Lives of People in Love. It’s clear from my individual story reviews that this score is going to be high, but perhaps not as high as a perfect five. Well, in a move that is incredibly rare for me (because I don’t usually think that anything is ever perfect), I am awarding a perfect five. And I do so because this collection has touched me more than any other short story collection ever has. Van Booy’s stories have taken my emotions to places I didn’t know existed, and they’ve given me the feeling of perfect bliss; the sense that reading is the most glorious occupation that a human being can be engaged in. There aren’t too many writers who have evoked that feeling in me thus far (John Steinbeck is probably the only other writer who has done it to such depth), but Simon Van Booy most certainly has. It’s been difficult to put that into words (Van Booy would manage it no problem :)), but I hope I’ve given you the encouragement to seek out and read this book, because I think it needs to be read by everyone. You owe it to your heart and to your soul to do so.
Beautiful Books | June 2010 | £7.99 | PAPERBACK | 288 PP | ISBN: 9781905636945
Harper Perennial | February 2010 | $13.99 | PAPERBACK | 208 PP | ISBN: 9780061766121
:: What others have said about The Secret Lives of People in Love::
- “Those who love the art of the short story will want to add this book to their reading list. Van Booy does not disappoint.” – Wendy, Caribousmum.
- “Exquisite writing that owns a permanent home on the good shelves.” – Bookfool, Bookfoolery and Babble
- “I know I’m waxing poetic about this collection, but it is a dynamite and vibrant piece of writing.” – Jason Rice, Three Guys One Book
- “if you are looking for a soulful collection of stories so realistic and relatable, yet so distant and melancholy that you gasp every few pages, then this is your book” – The Girl From the Ghetto