FOUR LETTERS OF LOVE by Niall Williams
Details: Reading Group Read
'When I was twelve years old God spoke to my father for the first time. God didn't say much. He told my father to be a painter and left it at that . . . ' So begins Niall Williams' magical tale about love and destiny.
Nicholas Coughlan and Isabel Gore were made for each other -- but fate doesn't always take the easiest or the most obvious route to true love. For a start, Nicholas and Isabel have never met and nor are they likely to, without some kind of divine intervention. But as God, ghosts, a series of coincidences and seemingly chance events and encounters conspire to bring the couple together, other -- often more human -- forces attempt to keep them apart. 'What will be, will be,' of course, but that doesn't guarantee a happy-ever-after ending, nor answer the question 'Will they, won't they?'
Written in a lyrical, lilting tone, Four Letters of Love is a glorious, uplifting story about faith, about seizing the moment, believing in your instincts and acting on impulse -- and about following your heart, no matter where it may lead.
“When I was twelve years old God spoke to my father for the first time.”
That has to be one of the best opening lines for a novel I’ve ever come across. And there are more gems in this book, like the following.
“Then, my head resting on fists, I sat and listened to the end of my childhood.”
In fact, the book is written in the most beautiful language imaginable. If I were to rate the book based only on the way in which it was written I would probably give it five stars. I require a bit more from my books though. First and foremost what I want is a story that grabs me by the throat and doesn’t let me go until the very last page, or, even better, until well beyond the last page as my mind continues to spin the story that has already ended.
For me this book lacked in story. In fact I found most of this book rather frustrating. Two desperately sad and apparently unconnected story-lines meandered along, introducing heartbreaking moment after heartbreaking moment without any apparent point to them. I didn’t like the different narrative styles either. Nicholas’ story is told from his perspective but he seems to have that universal insight that only a third person omniscient narrator should have. All other characters’ stories are told from that third person perspective and work a bit better for that reason but still didn’t tell me what I really wanted to know.
This book is a wonderful example of how reading tastes change and/or are related to the reader’s mood or where they are in their lives. I remember loving this book and being really impressed with the writing when I first read it, probably round about 1998. This time around I was far less impressed. The writing seemed too elaborate, too descriptive, making the story itself move desperately slowly. I had to fight the urge to skim passages in order to get to the ‘real’ story I knew would come eventually. But then, even when that real story did come, it didn’t manage to pull me in. From the first page until the very last word I felt detached from these characters and their stories as well as wondering what I had seen in this book the first time around.
I really wish I had a review from when I first read the book. It would be nice to compare my thoughts then to my feelings now. Unfortunately I’ve got nothing except the memory of loving ‘Four Letters of Love’ at the time. All I can say now is that you will probably love this book if you adore beautiful words. If you want those beautiful words to tell you a captivating story, this book may let you down a bit.