The Affairs of Others
By Amy Grace Loyd
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £12.99 hardcover
It’s a mystery to me why this novel, published in January, has been ignored by British reviewers (though it does bear a quote from A L Kennedy, who calls it: “A moving debut, full of real tenderness.”) This is especially puzzling, since the author, the former fiction editor of Playboy magazine, and an alumnus of The New Yorker, is now an executive editor at Byliner Inc. You’d think this was precisely the sort of writer whose first novel would cause a stir on either side of the pond. On top of that, it’s really quite good.
Affairs is the story of Celia Cassill, a young widow whose husband left her provided for, so that she need not work. What she does instead is buy a brownstone in Brooklyn and carefully curate the tenants she rents to in an effort to maintain her equilibrium: she does not wish to be disturbed by the outside world. In a way, she’s a cobweb-free modern-day Havisham, dedicating her life to remembering her marriage — so fleeting that they never hit a bad patch — while also mourning their un-lived future.
Changes begin when one of her tenants coerces her into allowing him to sublet his flat to a woman called Hope, who is in flight from the meltdown of her long marriage. Through her involvement with Hope, and increasingly, with her other tenants, Celia’s carefully circumscribed life is pushed into a variety of new shapes, not all of them pretty.
But it transpires that not only is Celia an unreliable narrator, she has been leading a highly unreliable life full of dangerous behaviour that makes her retreat from society more understandable.
To be more accurate, then, everything changes all the time, as Celia reveals her history in dribs and drabs, retelling stories adding crucial details that change their interpretation. I do not want reveal what happens, suffice to say that there are enough surprises to keep us hooked. This is a novel about female sexuality and violence, about how we live and what it means to confront death. It may leave you questioning your sexual politics. I found myself tearing through it, my curiosity piqued, happily afloat in the confident cadences of Loyd’s authorial voice.
Here’s how she begins:
“The body of a woman aging. It’s a landscape that, even as it vanishes, asks a lot of the eyes. Or it should. No two landscapes the same. They never were the same, no matter their age, but then how time brings details to the body.”
Sensual, sexy, and lushly written, The Affairs of Others has the allure of a dangerous and irresistible lover. I hope it finds an audience.