Date Published: March 27, 2012
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Book Summary: “I study the photo in the same way that a spy might study the face of a counterpart in a rival organization. I am calm as I make this promise: I am going to find out what you love, then whatever it is, I am going to track it down and I am going to take it away from you.” After the death of Laura’s nine-year-old daughter, Betty, is ruled an accident in a hit-and-run, Laura decides to take revenge into her own hands, determined to track down the man responsible. All the while, her inner turmoil is reopening the old wounds of her passionate love affair with Betty’s father, David, and his abandonment of the family for another woman. Haunted by her past and driven to a breaking point by her thirst for retribution, Laura discovers the unforeseen lengths she is willing to go to for love and vengeance.
My Thoughts: Whatever You Love begins with Laura’s recollection of the day she opened her front door to find two police officers. They entered her home and delivered heart-breaking news: her 9-year old daughter, Betty, had been hit by a car and killed. In this powerful scene it feels as if Laura is reliving the moment as she recounts her reactions to this devastating news. Laura experiences the same raw emotion and fog of grief in this retelling as when she first heard of Betty’s death. As Laura details the events that followed, her numbed behavior and despair at having to identify Betty’s body, I felt her intense pain and found it easy to understand her wish for unconsciousness.
Louise Doughty‘s prose is simple and straightforward but her words pack a punch as we read about Laura’s life from her childhood up until Betty’s death. Some of Laura’s life experiences are delivered in matter-of-fact prose with words that have a strong impact such as when we read that Laura, by age 15, was quite capable of "changing the incontinence pads" of her Parkinson’s stricken mother. I’d imagine this is an extremely painful and humiliating experience for a child and her mother. Other descriptions of Laura’s life provide graphically vivid images of her emotional state, such as when Laura is incensed at her school career adviser because the woman suggested Laura go into nursing. Laura is so mad she wanted to ‘bite’ hre adviser. The more I read about Laura and her life experiences, the better I understood her and felt connected to her. She’s a passionate, emotionally-needy woman who’s been through a lot of angst-filled, intensely stressful happenings in her life. She wanted to be cared for and loved.
A majority of Whatever You Love is about Laura’s relationship with David. Laura was initially interested in David because he seemed experienced and acted much older than the boys her age. I was irritated at first when Laura began discussing her relationship with David because I wanted to read more about Betty. I realized, though, Laura’s relationship with David further explains and rounds out Laura. It also helped me understand, a little better, Laura’s behavior after Betty died. Ms. Doughty clearly depicts Laura as a woman infatuated and obsessed with David more than in love. Laura relates instances of David’s erratic, bizarre behavior towards her which she tolerates without objection. In a hair-raising scene, Laura recounts the time he dragged her towards the cliffs on one of their walks and pretended he was going to throw her over. Most women would have run as far from David as possible once they were free of him. Not Laura, she stayed.
I expected Laura to be devastated when David left her for another woman and to take drastic action. She's upset but she has Betty. Laura’s love and relationship with her daughter kept her grounded. Ms. Doughty adepts depicts Laura as a very good, proud mother in love with her daughter. Betty’s loss is more than the loss of a beloved daughter for Laura. Although she has her son, Rees, whom she loves, Betty was Laura’s life, her anchor to sanity, the reason she stayed afloat. When Betty died, all of the pain, stress and heartache Laura has kept inside herself for years, bubbled to the surface and erupted.
Grief is specific to the individual with each person grieving in their own way. Ms Doughty contrasts Laura’s grief with Sally, the mother of Betty’s friend Willow. Willow was in the accident with Betty and dies as a result.. Sally’s grief is more formal, neat, orderly and mindful of others which angers Laura. And irritated me. Sally’s grief felt fake not real. Laura worries people in the community are comparing the two women and that she’s being criticized. She’s angry at them, anyway, and hates families and mothers after Betty’s death. Laura becomes distant, vague, closed-off and angry in her grief. Ms. Doughty depicts these emotions so clearly I felt distanced from Laura in this part of the novel. The connection I’d felt with her seemed to be gone. I no longer understood Laura or felt I knew her. I thought this was a clever aspect of Ms. Doughty’s writing since it made Laura’s grief feel extremely real.
Laura is a complex woman experiencing a myriad of emotions. She’s grieving not only Betty’s death, but also the loss of David and her marriage. Laura receives some bad news about the driver of the car that hit Bet. It’s the last straw for Laura. She contemplates inflicting pain similar to the pain she‘s been feeling. This woman feels very different from the Laura I‘ve come to know. Some of her behavior is difficult to understand, shocking and almost reprehensible. I’m still at a loss to explain or understand some things she does. It felt like Laura was on an emotional roller-coaster ride after Betty‘s death. I hoped Laura would regain her composure and common sense and shake off the anger and revenge she‘s feeling.. I rooted for Laura to regain her foothold on sanity.
Whatever You Love is a mesmerizing and fascinating book. Ms. Doughty has written a compelling, engrossing portrait of a woman pushed to her breaking point by the loss of the people and life she loved. Ms. Doughty doesn’t coddle readers in this book She depicts the emotional wreckage wrought on the life of one woman due to the death of her daughter and the more distant loss of her husband due to divorce. And shows us with unflinching honesty where Laura’s grief takes her as she faces a furture without most of her family. Ms. Doughty posits some powerful questions of her readers. I finished this book several days ago but I’m still thinking about Laura, her emotions and her behavior as well as what I might do in similar circumstances. It’s a somewhat frightening notion. I thought this was an amazing book. I think for some people, such as the mothers of young children, this may be a very difficult but I highly recommend it to everyone.
Louise Doughty’s website
Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review Whatever You Love and to Harper Perennial for a copy of this book.