I’ve cried, smiled, felt my heart burst, romantically despaired, love-hated London and questioned the point of my own 26-27 years (especially when I got to that point). It described everything with the bittersweet aptness and post-party despair of free-falling after University. That freedom tainted by that sobering realisation of how much you rely on, and need to face, the very things and people and insecurities you left behind. Far behind, in some cases. But you’re back, and life goes on at an abrupt, galloping, yearly pace, and the book catapults through the snapshot dilemmas of growing up.
The runaway stream of words about the finest, direst details caught in my throat, often. It’s a mirror; an affirmation for any confused 20-something reader that we’re not alone. You are certainly not. The two graduates couldn’t be more different, although they cross into different stages at mismatched points and it’s an uplifting tragedy; a contradiction in terms. I was angry at the author for doing this to them. Doing what? Pounding their souls with the gritty realities of life out of control. The unexpected twists and turns that no one can foresee despite the fact we are told stories about them all the time.
And as the book develops, rapidly, their lives speed up, and the author speeds up, and there’s a moment in reading wide-eyed that I wondered if this was rushed. Whether the author deliberately sped up to convey a sense of life reeling out of control – or, just to make the point. That time, and books, run out.
While reading this rather life-defining book I started writing emails in the style of Emma, as if I had suddenly found (identified with) that voice.
And there’s the classic writerly point made alongside the protagonist’s journey through book publishing that writing is good and worth pursuing and works out in the long run, even if just to make you a better and more compassionate person with the relationships that make you grow, regardless of material and literary success. Except, she is also self-deprecating and insecure and finds herself adrift with disappointingly superficial characters in The Arts – and you can’t help wonder if Dexter is like that, and you just want to shake Emma and show her that she is refreshing and sweet and honest and you need her to know her solid intelligent mind soars through these pages. And Dexter… oh, Dexter. You can understand, truly, that people who are lucky, successful and incredibly good looking are, well, in pain.
Places and paths are revisited and retrod with such honest flaws, such sincerity, and such intelligence. We all feel these things. But especially after University and some definition that graduates are supposed to be successful and they find themselves falling just as much as anyone else, until we learn, somehow, messily, to do some things better and all of a sudden our age changes things and we want different things and how is life ever going to work out, for real? The answer provided is realistic; it works out but only in ways we don’t expect. And these ways can delight us, if we have the courage to change absolutely everything when we just can’t take it any more.
And, perhaps, live a little more.
I cried. Many times. (And if you know why, don’t spoil it for everyone else.)