25 May 2012

Review 38: Q by Evan Mandery

"Would you give up the love of your life on the advice of a stranger? A picturesque love story begins at the cinema when our hero - an unacclaimed writer, unorthodox professor and unmistakeable New Yorker - first meets Q, his one everlasting love. Over the following weeks, in the rowboats of Central Park, on the miniature golf courses of Lower Manhattan, under a pear tree in Q's own inner-city Eden, their miraculous romance accelerates and blossoms. Nothing, it seems - not even the hostilities of Q's father or the impending destruction of Q's garden - can disturb the lovers, or obstruct their advancing wedding. They are destined to be together. Until one day a man claiming to be our hero's future self tells him he must leave Q."

Q was almost exactly as I had hoped it would be. I wanted a quirky romance without cheesiness and that is largely what I got. Whilst there is plenty of whimsy from the characters, Q in particular, we also get a level of quirk from the time travel element. Our hero is visited at points by himself from the future which tries to answer the oft-asked question of whether we would go back and tell our younger selves to avoid mistakes we made. I say it was almost what I hoped it would be though, as I did feel a little let down by the fact that the quote on the front cover from The New York Times, which warns the tear-prone not to read it in public. I was hoping for an epic, heartfelt ending where as in fact it was gentle and sweet, which has its charms but I was hoping for something a little more emotionally charged.

First Line: "Q, Quentina Elizabeth Deveril, is the love of my life."

Why I read it: The beautiful cover caught my eye in Waterstones and I bought it for a train journey to London.

Who I would recommend it to: Fans of gentle philosophical meanderings, whimsical romance and The Time Traveler's Wife.

Our unnamed hero is a writer and a history professor. He lives in New York and one day meets Q and they hit it off across a number of charmingly quirky dates at independent cinemas and farmers markets. Q is an urban gardener and is fighting against the threatened buy out and closure of her garden. They are quite clearly superbly suited for each other and get engaged. Whilst they are planning their wedding, our hero is visited by his future self telling him that he musn't marry Q and giving him a way to break it off. What follows is a series of visits from his future self as each decision impacts on his life and changes the advice that he gets. Each time he is visited by someone who is unhappy and dissatisfied and sees time travel as a way to avoid unhappiness.

I think my main criticism of this would be I wish that Mandery had spent less time on the visits from the future, and more time building up the ending so it had a bit more of an emotional wallop. To begin with the visits are upsetting, confusing or funny but they end up being a little tedious as he gets more and more visits. It also got rather depressing as he kept changing his life course based on the advice of his future self and failing to get any fulfilment from it. The ending is lovely though, I felt like Mandery struck the perfect balance between bittersweet and uplifting, and so I would have liked to have been able to enjoy more build up to it.

Another element which I wasn't wholly convinced about was the way in which entire chapters of the hero's own writing is included as part of the book. He writes alternative histories, what-ifs of key historical figures, such as what would have happened in Freud had discovered eel testicles as he had initially set out to do. The  chapters that are included have obvious parallels to our actual stories, and I enjoyed the melancholy short story about robots taking over creative pursuits but for me, it was perhaps used too much throughout the novel.

Having said that, I found the book overwhelmingly appealing. I really liked the hero and I adored Q. I loved hearing about their relationship and I loved the scene where they go on a march to protest against the closure of the garden, dressed as fruit and vegetables, which is a wonderful mix of tragedy and comedy. I also enjoyed the majority of the visits from the future and some of the more surreal events that result from the visits. The central relationship is wonderful and the ending is beautiful. I really enjoyed Mandery's style of writing which is easy to read and enjoy, he has created a lovely narrative voice in the main character. I also enjoyed the way time travel is presented and explored and there are some funny moments, as well as melancholy moments, as people try to manipulate to their needs. It does get you thinking about how you would use time travel if it existed and whether you would attempt to warn your past self about mistakes you've made, and how that would affect the rest of your life.

To be honest, the book is worth buying just to have on your bookcase because it is lovely, the picture at the top doesn't do it justice. I found the experience of reading this thoroughly enjoyable and really ticked my boxes in terms of balance of romance and whimsy which can sometimes be rather overegged. I found it to be just the sort of book I love to read so despite it's flaws, I really liked it.

1 comment:

  1. I added this to my wishlist awhile back based on your recommendation, and finally ordered it. Definitely enjoyed the novel, and the fact that the author was kind of poking fun at the narrator at times (there were definitely some moments when I wondered if the guy was listening to himself as he wrote). Although I do think I may have been too similar to Q in some ways, since my reaction to the "don't marry Q" dilemma was "don't have kids, or just adopt," similar to her reaction to The Twilight Zone episode - they should have talked about it.