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?