Have you read…? The Amateur Science of Love by Craig Sherborne

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The Amateur Science of Love was random pickup from the library shelf.  Helen Garner’s words on the book cover drew me in with their promise that my ‘illusions’ about male thinking would be shattered by this ‘thunderclap of a book’. My assumption was that this novel would explore the depth, warmth and empathetic nature of the male character. I was wrong!

Craig Sherborne’s novel is, perhaps a little disturbingly, based upon his own life. It concerns the courtship and marriage of of Colin and Tilda Butcher. Colin and Tilda meet in London. He is in his early twenties, she is in her early thirties and newly divorced. Their relationship is passionate and volatile. Sherborne is a poet and he uses language well in telling Colin and Tilda’s story . He has crafted insightful observations on love. He describes falling in love as ‘falling in sickness’ and that ‘[b]eing in love is a kind of being famous. Famous on a small scale to just one person.’ After Tilda has had surgery and he is about to look at her scars, he declares the intimacy of this act as ‘an honour…To be taken into someone’s wounds is to be trusted to recognise that only their flesh has been ruined…it has not wrecked the rest of them.’. At their wedding, as the reverend beseeches God, Colin realises that ‘humility [is] not demeaning. I never knew it [makes] you kneel and [makes] you stand tall.’.

Yet despite the beauty of the language, Colin and Tilda are ugly in the manner in which they treat each other. Whilst there are moments of compassion for each other during personal crises, for the most part their actions are governed, particularly Colin’s, by self interest and resentment. In many instances, Colin’s behaviour is appalling.  He is immature, superficial, and thinks with his penis. It hardly elevates the perception of the way men think. For me, this made the book an unpleasant read. This is not necessarily a bad thing.  Books will at times challenge us and expose us to behaviour unlike our own (I’m thinking of The Slap here!). In this case, however, I grew weary of the characters’ ongoing unpleasantness to each other. I was waiting for the novel to end so I could be rid of their nastiness. Sherborne, I later found out, wrote the story initially as an essay for The Monthly. In this shortened format, I found it a more tolerable and interesting read.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you think it’s possible to admire the writing in a book but not like the subject matter covered?

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4 thoughts on “Have you read…? The Amateur Science of Love by Craig Sherborne

  1. Of course – the aim of some books (and films) are to be thought-provoking and to challenge the reader (or viewer). Having said this, many of us like to relax, unwind, and even escape through these mediums so a confronting read (view) can be too much for us at times – and that’s fine too, as we need to be in the ‘zone’ to get the most from these sorts of books (and films).

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  2. What an interesting review of this book, Carolyn. Like you, a recommendation from Helen Garner would definitely cause me to open up a book and give it a try! I haven’t read The Amateur Science of Love, but I agree with The Hipsterette above, there is definitely value in reading books that you don’t ‘enjoy’ in the traditional sense. It depends what mood you’re in. Sometimes I just want something warm and fuzzy. Other times I want to learn something, or try a new style of writing. I recently read The Man Who Loved Children and I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, all the characters were horrible, but it painted such a truthful picture of a poor family in Washington in the 1900s and that was interesting. I also read the Rape of Nanking last year, about the Japanese invasion of Nanjing during WW2. It was horrific, so graphic, and of course I didn’t ‘enjoy’ reading it but I felt like I should know this history, at least in honour of the people who died, so that was a good motivation to keep reading even when I wanted to put it down and cry my eyes out. There is definitely room for all books, challenging and not, it just depends on the occasion.

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    1. Yes, I agree. And it’s always worth considering why you don’t like a book – is it just poorly written (this wasn’t) or is it placing you in the company of people or situations you wouldn’t choose to associate with of be in. My hubby has read The Rape of Nanking. He found it informative and awful.The Man Who Love Chikdren sounds interesting. Will bear your comments in mind if I find it on the library shelf!

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