True Love by Paddy Crewe: Love and healing

Cover image for True Love by Paddy CreweI was pitched Paddy Crewe’s True Love because of my liking for Donal Ryan. Ever sceptical of such comparisons, I checked out Goodreads to find two Ryan mentions then twigged that Crewe was the author of My Name is Yip which has been sitting on my TBR shelves for a while. It seemed a safe bet. As the title suggests it’s a love story but far from what you might call romance.

She doesn’t know how else she would fill her time, or what could possibly feel as satisfying. She is filled up with words. Whatever pain she suffers in her own life, the characters she reads about set to replenishing her, all of which has led her to treat books as a reverence that she affords nothing else.

Keely, who was once Keg before tragedy struck, grew up in the camp where her father scavenged for coal along the coastline. Her mother died when she was five and her brother was almost one. When they suffer another terrible loss, her father sinks into depression and Keely is left to cope, dropping out of school but rescued when her teacher leaves a bag of books outside her caravan door. Reading is her haven and continues to be so when her father deserts her but it’s not enough to save her. Brought up by his grandparents, Finn never knew his mother and seems not to know how to be in the world. Bullied at school, he finds a surprising escape, performing with his only friend on stage. When Keely and Finn meet, they become each other’s lodestar, lost in a love which each sees as their salvation until the first euphoric heady months are over and reality sinks in.

He often shivers when he thinks how quickly he could be dragged away from the hiding place he works so hard to occupy. So he keeps quiet, and he does his best to draw no attention to himself.

Crewe devotes two long sections to establishing his main protagonists, beginning with Keely – bright and curious but burdened with both her own and her father’s terrible grief – then switching to Finn – brought up by kindly grandparents but deeply introverted with no idea how to relate to other young boys. They fall deeply in love, opening themselves to each other in a way they’ve never done with anyone else. Crewe avoids a first-person narrative, writing in a slightly detached yet still compassionate tone putting a distance between his readers and all that pain. Some readers might find the pace too slow although it worked well for me, Crewe taking the time to develop his characters so that I came to care about what happened to them. Although much of the descriptive writing is striking that ambitious Donal Ryan comparison isn’t one I’d make myself but I enjoyed this tender story of two deeply damaged young people and the healing power of love.

Doubleday: London ‎ 9780857529978 320 pages Hardback (Read via NetGalley)

16 thoughts on “True Love by Paddy Crewe: Love and healing”

  1. Well, a comparson with Donal Ryan reels me in too. And even if it isn’t quite the right comparison, your review makes me think this book might be for me too. Some stories demand a slow pace.

  2. Donal Ryan is on my must-read list, I think, before I get to this one. It does sound very dark, but then again, it’s all about the narrative voice and how the darkness gets handled. I don’t mind a slow pace at all if the writing is good.

  3. I was interested that you didn’t feel the Ryan comparison was quite accurate, because as I was reading your review and the quotes it felt a bit wide of the mark. I suppose its an easy marketing shorthand to signal to readers that they may be interested in a novel, but I generally find comparisons off-putting!

  4. I find comparisons with other writers, however supportive they might be, are usually a marketing ploy. Donal Ryan is a unique localised writer who has a very individualised way of writing. But talking about comparisons Crewe’s book sounds like Rachel Seiffert’s writing about people on the margins struggling to find hope and social connection.

    1. The are, indeed, and often the comparisons are quite lazy, I find. Your own comparison is an interesting one. I loved The Dark Room but have only read The Walk Home since then.

  5. The Boy in Winter is a really powerful story set in 1941 Ukraine during the German invasion. Heart in mouth type of story. She is one of my favourite contemporary writers.

  6. When I hear a comparison like that, the child-reader in me jumps for joy (in the way I used to get so excited finding another volume in a series that I thought I’d exhausted) and then I have to squelch down my expectations. But, secretly, I still hope it’s accurate. heheh

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