The first sentence on the cover flap gives away one aspect of that emotional intensity and, to be fair, readers would have learned of this tragedy within the novel’s opening pages anyhow: Laura’s nine-year-old daughter, Betty, has been killed. She has been struck by a car while crossing a street after dance practice.
So it’s no surprise that this novel will be preoccupied with Laura’s need to accept a loss. Whatever You Love is about love and grief, in equal proportions.
It’s a challenging theme for the reader; Laura is at her most vulnerable, and her innermost thoughts are unfiltered.
At times this can be overwhelming. When the police officer assigned to monitor Laura’s coping abilities in the wake of Betty’s death distinguishes between those who cope successfully with traumatic loss and those who do not, readers are unsure where Laura falls.
Neither the officer nor Laura is sure either and, as the degree of uncertainly increases, the thread of the narrative splits. It’s a bit disorienting, but it reflects Laura’s state of mind perfectly.
A reader might be tempted to say that this novel is about a single idea, about a mother trying to cope with the death of her young daughter. But there are a whole mass of ideas in conflict with each other in this story as the grieving and the loving spiral across the pages, and the string of related events, as Laura realizes over time, is long and complex.
Perhaps most significantly however, given the dark and sorrowful aspects of this story, is that Louise Doughty has not overlooked “the possibility of change” in Whatever You Love. It is a powerful story, told simply and told well.
More about this book here.