Having roamed across its summer meadows with peach juice dribbling down chins, while exploring grief in her evocative debut novel The Night Rainbow, Claire King returns to Southern France for her second, Everything Love Is. The novel shifts between a floating community on the slow-moving waterways just outside Toulouse and into the city itself where the political situation seems altogether more fluid and fast-moving. And, as you can probably deduce, this time Claire King turns her attention towards love.
What I want is something that makes me feel alive. Joy, passion, despair, something to remember or something to regret. I want to have my breath taken away.
Moored on his beloved houseboat at the edge of Toulouse, Baptiste Molino helps his clients navigate the waters of contentment, yet remains careful never to make waves of his own.
But between Sophie, the young waitress in his local bar who believes it is time for Baptiste to rediscover passion, and his elegant, enigmatic new client Amandine Rousseau, this fragile status quo is now at risk. When the rising tensions on the city streets cause his mysterious past to catch up with him, Baptiste finds himself torn between finally pursuing his own happiness and safeguarding that of the one he loves.
Born on a train to a mother he never knew and raised by adoptive parents in their countryside cottage, Baptiste lives a simple, pared-down existence on the houseboat, Candide. Although his work involves helping others to find out what brings them contentment, he pays little heed to his own happiness, convinced instead he has all he can hope for and considering that to be enough. He’s careful not to get too attached to people although inevitably he forms some connections among the community on the canal. There is a sense that he needs to feel as if he could cast off at a moment’s notice.
Two characters share the storytelling in Everything Love Is, Baptiste’s one and another, unnamed. Baptiste’s chapters are headed up with a kingfisher to which he’s likened in the book, the others by an owl. It’s a beautifully unobtrusive way to make it clear who’s narrating, especially when other things are less so. There were moments reading Everything Love Is when I felt uncertain, as if things were shifting around me: that moment where you’re about to step aboard a boat and it shifts slightly away from you and there’s nothing below you but air and water. Yet you don’t fall, and you won’t here. Claire King’s a skilled writer and ensures that you’re soon back on firmer ground. It’s worth steering your way through these brief disturbances; those light ripples may be disconcerting but shouldn’t be enough to capsize.
While Everything Love Is is every bit as difficult to review as The Night Rainbow was without giving away any spoilers, it’s even more beautifully written, moving and poignant. This is a grown up book about love, of all that love is and involves, both as a couple and as individuals. The kingfisher and owl of the cover and chapter headings may seem an unlikely pairing but they’re so apt for the characters and the book itself. There are flashes of brilliance in the descriptions, like the kingfisher darting and diving about the canal, and sage thoughts on love and life, a nod to the knowing and keenly observant owl, who sits on high taking it all in. It’s not the French setting (some of) their books share but the description which appeals to all five senses that puts me in mind of Joanne Harris’ writing. Claire King brings her world alive with the three-part harmony of a rainstorm aboard Candide, the woody scent of houseboat stoves, wild garlic along the canalside, Baptiste walking barefoot along the towpath to rest his feet on the gnarled roots of the fig tree and eat his lunch, or venturing further afield to Jordi’s bar for a fragrant bowl of cassoulet.
Everything Love Is is a book you’ll want to share, either by gifting someone a copy (which is what I’m going to do below) or by reading it to them; it’s a novel to quote from in that infuriating way a reader does when they find a book filled with beauty which dazzles and truths that resonate. It’s Everything Love Is.
It can be enough to know that you could slip your moorings should you wish.
Everything Love Is is Claire King‘s second novel and is out now as an audiobook, ebook and in hardback and paperback from Bloomsbury Circus. It’s available from Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones.
My thanks to the publisher for a review copy. I’ve since bought myself a hardback, as well as one for the giveaway, which Claire has signed.
Leave a comment below to be in with the chance of winning a signed copy of the beautiful hardback of Everything Love Is, together with a signed copy of the paperback of The Night Rainbow. The squirrels will pick a winner on Monday.