Title: True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop
Author: Annie Darling
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 400; Price: Rs 399
I must confess I picked up this book purely for the title and perfect cover; the combination might as well have been a Cupid arrow headed straight for the heart of a bookworm like myself. I expected nothing less than a true-blue romance and was not disappointed. True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop is a delightful, engaging and rather hilarious love story.
Verity Love, Very to her friends, is the middle child of a seaport-town vicar’s pack of five daughters. She identifies herself as an introvert, has the perfect job at a quaint London bookshop that only houses romantic fiction, and swears by the life philosophies of her fictional hero, Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet. Her steady companion is her cat Strumpet, needy but reliable, and well, her imaginary fake boyfriend Peter Hardy oceanographer who’s always away and thereby conveniently has not met any of her friends. She was content, happy even with her life and the simplicity of it, when her friends barge in on her supposed date night determined to meet the elusive Peter. A comedy of errors unfolds as Very panics and imposes herself on a stranger and introduces him a new fling.
Johnny True, is a Cambridge-graduated architect, who’s desperate to get his ever-so-concerned friends to back off his case. They want him to move on from the love of his life, and constantly hound him with ‘viable matches’, but Johnny is lovesick and determined he can’t live without her, his first love. When Very accosts him and pleads him to play along, he obliges – in an ‘aha’ moment, he realises he could really use a real fake girlfriend and gain some respite from his pals.
They strike a deal to charade as a couple, attending weddings and birthdays and garden parties – and promise not to fall in love, and an easy comfort between them through the summer. Very appreciates the way Johnny never fails to play his part, being charming and unfazed even when he’s unintentionally cornered into visiting her parents’ home for a weekend. He respects her non-negotiable aversion to excessive physical contact and blissful comfort with silence – the more the better. Though we don’t see much of Johnny’s feelings, we get a small sense he begins to rediscover himself and the grip of his ‘love’ begins to loosen just a tad as he spends time with Very and a genuine friendship is forged. But true love has a way of trickling in when least expected. And soon feelings get complicated, and finally it’s time for them to see what everyone else already does – that they are meant for each other.
It takes a knack for insightful writing to make social commentary subtle and intelligent – that just clicks without being overtly obvious, and Annie Darling’s writing touches upon young couple concerns that are universal in nature. Through Very’s need to decompress in solitude after a day of interacting with people to ‘charge’ herself as she calls it, Annie explores notions of personal space and alone time that is often misunderstood as being cold, distant or unapproachable. Johnny is stuck on a love that’s not his to have, clinging to the sentiment of soulmates and forever and blind to the reality of his situation, and draws caution the complicated and dangerous nature of obsessive and power-played love that are persistently prevalent in today’s world.
But the charm of this book lies in its unusual setting and many realistic and quintessentially British moments of wry humour that made me snort and giggle, attracting curious looks in coffee shops and airport lounges, because I was quite happily and dreamily losing myself in Very and Johnny’s romantic adventure.