A musical evocation of love
It Was Only Ever You
Author : Kate Kerrigan
Publisher: Speaking Tiger, Rs 499
Kate Kerrigan’s It Was Only Ever You is a novel that has a melody of its own; it creates sweet music for the reader, for those who have been in love and for those who haven’t — a must read on your book-it list, writes SANYA DANG
This novel’s blurb points to a very cliched love triangle — three women and a man but as the narrative progresses, we realise how thoughtfully and beautifully the author has introduced the four characters and weaved their individual stories. All strands merge into one main story with the backdrop of the rock and roll music scene of New York binding them. The 1950s music scene in New York with its dancing halls and Irish immigrants set the tone for the paths of different characters to intersect, connect and even clash.
The writing style is classic yet fresh, natural yet proper, modern yet traditional, New York style yet Dublinesque. It is beautiful, languid, fluid, visual, sensuous and poetic. Kerrigan uses the very ‘language of love’ if there exists such a form in writing. She uses the Queen’s undistorted English with a few Irish and American slangs thrown in for good measure. The language is simple enough for anyone to understand yet the simplicity does not take away from the ornate beauty of the overall effect it creates. A very feminine/female way of writing which is fluid, emotional and reminds you of the ‘stream of consciousness’ method used by women writers like Virginia Woolf and others.
The language of love and music intermingle constantly throughout the narrative. Love is described in a sensuous way, as if it is music for the senses — body, mind and soul. Music is something that has the power to seduce and make love to the senses. It can leave you weak in the knees, make you tremble, create powerful emotions and leave you craving for more. Both are addictive and otherworldly, can alight the senses yet leave you senseless.
The divide between Ireland and New York is quite clear — they are two different worlds geographically, culturally and emotionally. New York is the land of opportunity, yes, but also ‘the land of experience’ while County Mayo is ‘the land of innocence’. Apart from the rural-urban divide, Ireland is the place where ‘everyone knows everyone’, where everything was touched by history (personal or political), where even new homes looked old. New York, on the other hand is the strange, new foreign land, modern, cold and calculative.
First comes the story of Patrick and Rose who are country sweethearts from different social classes. This love blossoms in the fields and the hills, hiding from the world. This is the innocent love of young adults, idyllic and beautiful until it is discovered and havoc reigns. Rose describes her love for Patrick as the union of two souls — it wasn’t the ordinary love that rises from bodily attraction, it was much more than just a marriage or an arrangement. Her love was pure and true, nobody could part them as they were meant to be together. Her belief in this kind of love makes her steal money, break ties with her parents, take advantage of people in her way. She embarks on a dangerous transatlantic journey to reunite with Patrick who she cannot forget even after months of separation. Despite being brought up in the most overprotective manner, she is bold enough to cross oceans (literally and metaphorically) in order to bring back her lover. Even after reaching New York, she shows more guts and gumption to fight for love, more than Patrick is capable of.
The second story is that of Ava and Patrick — a lot of importance has been given to Ava’s story. It may seem undue if the reader’s loyalties lie with who seems to be the real heroine of the novel — Rose. Sheila’s story is not given enough attention even though she owns the Prologue.
This book takes you on a journey where you not only realise the power of love, its complexities, the impossible traps and webs it creates, the many hearts it breaks but also how you must stand by your love, no matter what — even if the circumstances are not as rosy as they were in the beginning or if your lover has made a mistake,given the situation.
Love not only tests endurance, tolerance but is also tests time and again by external factors — society, norms, personal circumstances.
The title of the novel is also the title of Patrick’s hit single, the song that makes him a star overnight, a song originally written for his sweet Rose on the flight to New York. The novel ends with this song which is central to his existence- written as a tribute for the one who had his heart, for whom he was travelling to a distant land, for whom he had to try and become a star so that her parents would agree to this match. This is the song that ultimately reunites him with his true love after all the confusions and upheavals.
This is a novel where each of the characters is looking for his/her own place in the world — whether it is a house of their own, their identity, a place in the music industry or a permanent place in the arms of the man they love. Their final destination is this niche, safe haven for which they traverse oceans, step into new worlds, turn their lives around, suffer and strive, struggle and survive.
A novel with a melody of its own, it creates sweet music for the reader, for those who have been in love and for those who haven’t — a must read on your book-it list.
The reviewer is a teacher by profession and a writer by passion
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