Prodigal: A Novel About Loss and Love
My new novel Prodigal is about loss, but it’s also about love. Elizabeth Barrett Browning famously talked about the almost infinite ways of love and how it’s done and she was right, although her theme was actually the love she felt for Robert, and that was more than enough for her. In Prodigal, love takes many forms, not all of them good. Jeremy, the hero, produces softcore porn for women who’d like to get their own back on the men they love, and so would Jeremy, except that he would rather just be loved, and thinks he may have found, and lost, the love of his life, and knows that the options open to his fictional heroines are closed to him. His sister, Rachel, has loved two men in her life, without much success (or maybe not). His father, a serial betrayer, has loved and left a multitude of women, and his children have the letters to prove it, although the letters don’t tell the whole story, because the whole story is never told, in life or love. His mother, betrayed, ill-used, but not entirely innocent, finds the love she has sought, reciprocated, in her final years. Or does she? Jeremy loves his mother, but not his father; Rachel, on the other hand… There is parental love, and there is filial and fraternal love, and there is the real big thing, romantic love, which can be a shared adventure or a prison, but which is never, as DH Lawrence points out in the epigraph to the novel, daisy time.
The problem with all these kinds of love is that two people are involved and the other person is always a mystery, because everyone is a mystery, and love can sometimes be a way of pretending that mystery can be solved, just once, in the history of the world, and it is in our power to do it. Maybe it doesn’t even need to be reciprocal. Maybe love can be one-way, concealed, a secret. Frank O’Hara said that to be alone is not to be loveless, if you love, and that may be true – I remember clinging on to the hope of it during my troubled post-adolescent years when the object of my desire was unavailable. The person you love might be someone you know, or someone you have seen on television, or from the top of a bus as it passes an uncurtained window, and there he is, and he will never know. A man, a woman. The other, known and not known. The point of it all. That might be enough, you think and hope, as Jeremy does.
And then that love is recognized and returned, and you see that O’Hara was wrong, or not entirely right; was being kind to himself and to his readers. All the pain you have felt and thought of as a sort of love finds a transforming home. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, I love thee with the passion put to use/In my old griefs.
It’s what old griefs are for.
Charles Lambert, 2018.
Prodigal is out now. You can follow Charles on Twitter @charles_lambert