July 2013

Finding a place to belong

By Sarah Butler
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Love has many forms. It’s the bond between a parent and a child. It shows up in sibling relationships. It’s the connective tissue that unites sweethearts. It’s a lasting friendship.

And all too often, love is a complex web of emotion, commitment and uncertainty. That’s certainly the case for the characters in Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love, a debut novel by Londoner Sarah Butler.

At nearly 30, Alice is the youngest of three daughters, and she has always felt as though her parents should have stopped with just two children. Her mother died in a car wreck en route to pick up 4-year-old Alice from ballet. Ever since, Alice thinks it has been difficult for her father to look at her. That paranoia has resulted in difficult relationships with him and her sisters. Alice has spent most of her adulthood as a globetrotting nomad.

Daniel is similarly adrift, wandering the streets of London in search of the daughter he never knew. Both of his parents have died, and the woman he loved was never his to begin with. Life has dealt him a difficult hand, leaving him homeless and, save for finding his child, without purpose. “You can’t miss someone you’ve never met. But I miss you,” he says to her.

As Butler shifts between—and eventually links—Alice’s and Daniel’s stories, the novel explores the intricacies of familial relationships and what an individual is willing to sacrifice to preserve the relationships and the people in his or her life. Combining detailed storytelling with character-revealing lists of 10 things her protagonists have learned to treasure, Butler establishes herself as a talent to watch.

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