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Lost Love Song
I’m writing this review just moments after finishing this beautifully romantic book, so I still have a lump in my throat and I’m torn between the desire to capture how I feel in words or go to Spotify and create the musical playlist the author has created for her characters, to stay in the emotions of the book. I feel such a bittersweet sense of love lost and love found, of reinventing oneself, and building a completely new life. This feeling is so bound up with my own life story, that the ending was particularly poignant. I have been where Arie is, but I’ve also been where Evie is. I have felt that confusing sense of falling in love, when I haven’t fully healed from loss. I have also been that open hearted girl, willing to leap in with both feet in that dangerous all or nothing way, only other ‘leapers’ would understand. I have felt that pain of not being wanted enough, of being the wrong person or even the right person at the wrong time.
Minnie Darke’s book centres on music, mainly in the form of a book that once belonged to the beautiful concert pianist Diana Clare. Diana was greatly in demand and flew all over the world to play and record with different orchestras. Known for her flaming red hair, her signature red dresses and the Converse trainers she preferred to play in wherever she was. The book of music belonged to Diana and in it she’d been writing a love song for her long term boyfriend Arie. Arie was a self-confessed computer geek (in my head he looked like Richard Ayoade) who met Diana at the music academy where she studied, when asked to fix a problem with her computer. They seemed opposites, Diana was mercurial and hard to pin down, whereas Arie was solid and even tempered, but what Diana was trying to show him was that when put together, they were like a pair of musical notes that when played together created perfect cadence. Arie only heard her song once, she played it one night when he brought up the question of why, after seven years together, they weren’t married yet. Diana didn’t feel the same urgency, but played the song to show him how much she felt, when words failed her. Sadly, Arie never hears the song again because the next morning, Diana leaves their home in Australia for a concert in Europe. Her plane, flown by Air Pleiades, disappears into the sea after the cabin fails to pressurise the cabin correctly and all the passengers and crew succumb to hypoxia.
Arie feels like their time together is like the part written song, never finished just left hanging in the air without a conclusion. He retreats into his world, living in their house where Diana’s Steinway still sits in the bay window. He still observes festivals with Diana’s distraught mother Belinda such as their apricot jam making day, bonfire night and of course Diana’s anniversary and birthday. There is a beautiful tenderness to the way Arie treats this broken hearted older woman, whilst knowing a time will come when he disappoints her, by making changes or maybe one day moving on. For now he’s okay where he is, treading water. Until one day a few years later he notices that the Air BnB next door is occupied again. He notices the young woman with her Cleopatra dark bob and an easy air of style. This is Evie and one evening, he notices her in the garden. Then he hears a familiar piece of music he’d thought was lost. She’s playing Diana’s song so quietly and tentatively, picking out the chords as if she’s piecing it together by memory.
In fact that’s exactly what Evie is doing because she doesn’t have the music. She heard it being played by a young flautist and cellist as she was leaving Waverley Station in Edinburgh, travelling towards Melbourne. The players were so absorbed in their music and each other, clearly in love. It piques her interest, because she’s walking away from a relationship where she wasn’t loved enough. She has resolved to not be involved with someone ever again unless they truly want her. He must find her and want her as much as these musicians clearly want each other. Darke tells her story through these main chapters that alternate between her and Arie, but there are musical interludes where we follow Diana’s notebook. It slowly wends its way through different people, from different musical backgrounds like classical orchestra to bluegrass. This is such a clever way of following the musical theme, but never forgetting our main pair as they move through the world.
Evie and Arie are possibly perfect together, but does such love come twice in a lifetime? Their tentative friendship is so fragile and I was desperately wiling it to work for both of them. I thought the author handled the emotions of being widowed with such knowledge and care. I’ve been there and have felt every one of Arie’s emotions, but that huge question of moving on is the most pertinent here. When we build a relationship with our in-laws they become our family. For me, and for Arie, that relationship continues after the loss of our partner. I felt that no one understood the enormity of my loss more than my brother and father-in-law, I wanted to continue that relationship with them and keep them as my family, to reminisce and celebrate my husband’s life. Then as time passed and I continued to live, I was very conscious of not upsetting them, respecting my husband’s memory and keeping them part of the new life I was creating. I made mistakes and it added to my pain, the feeling that I’d let them down. Now there is just me and my sister-in-law left and we talk a lot, and try to support each other even from her home on the other side of the world in New Zealand. We keep each other up to date on our children/step-children and reminisce about our husbands (and what a pair of rascals those brothers could be when they got together).
In this book, Arie doesn’t know how to reconcile these two parts of his life; the left behind and the moving on. Perhaps made more complicated, because just like the music Diana leaves behind, there was no real conclusion to her death. One minute she was there and the next, far away, she was gone and there was no funeral. Just the terrible knowledge she was lost somewhere under the sea. It takes Evie’s poetry to express this inbetween place, her talent for just the right words to capture a maelstrom of emotions is similar to Diana’s ability to convert emotion into musical notes. What stands out above everything in this novel is how artistic expression can explain, contain and elevate human experience. Most importantly, in Arie’s case, what comes across so strongly is art’s eventual power to heal.