Arms & Legs by Chloe Lane: Playing with fire

Cover image for Arms & Legs by Chloe LaneI was a big fan of Chloe Lane’s debut, The Swimmers, which handled the tricky theme of assisted dying with empathy lightly underpinned with humour. A hard act to pull off but Lane did it beautifully which made me keen to read her second novel. Spanning just a few weeks, Arms & Legs follows Georgie whose marriage is buckling under the strain of parenthood and familiarity brought sharply into focus by a grim discovery.

Being a parent was like living your life from a flying trapeze.

New Zealanders Georgie and Dan have been together seven years, immigrating to the US where they’ve settled in Florida. Georgie is an academic while Dan is a wood worker, switching from his original plan to become an architect. They have a two-year-old son, Finn, who seems a little slow in talking adding to the many worries that Georgie carries around with her. Their relationship has become workaday, little real talk or touch, and Georgie is is indulging in a desultory affair, convinced that Dan will never leave her. A chance encounter on a family hike meant to help mend their relationship leads Georgie to take part in a controlled fire. She is the first to spot the remains of a young man she will later learn is a missing student, one of hers. In the week or so that follows, Georgie begins to unravel, behaving erratically, losing her temper, contemplating her marriage and the state its in. By the end of the novel a crisis has been reached and some sort of resolution, if unspoken.

This was the life I’d wanted. Everything I could see from where I was now leaning against the doorway, Finn and Dan, all of it, I’d sought it out. Yet I could barely stand to face it.

Lane’s novel unfolds from Georgie’s perspective, beginning in irritation when Dan rings her in a panic after Finn has fallen and cracked his teeth the first time Dan is in sole charge. Their relationship is already scratchy, Dan seemingly oblivious or so she thinks. As her narrative progresses there are childhood flashbacks revealing the root of Georgie’s many anxieties, not least a massive forest fire, worries that Dan had initially soothed. Over the course of the novel, she begins to understand that Dan is also unhappy, that she has contributed to that and that her assumption that he will never leave her may have been too complacent. While I enjoyed Lane’s book which smartly captures the feeling of a relationship run aground and stuck, at times it seemed a little heavy handed, a few too many references to Florida’s wildlife posing danger at every turn, for instance. That said, it’s far from uncommon for second novels to fall a little short of expectations, particularly after such an impressive debut, and I’ll be happy to read her third.

Gallic Books: London ‎ 9781913547615 208 pages Paperback

6 thoughts on “Arms & Legs by Chloe Lane: Playing with fire”

  1. Difficulties in intimate relationships provide a reliable source of plot for many novels. I haven’t read Lane’s first novel – not yet anyhow – but am not convinced I’m in the mood for this one.

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