(review originally published over at FPI, but thought I'd post it up here)
Right. Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first. If you think Simone Lia’s latest book is about some desperate single woman frantically searching for a man against the ticking of her biological clock- it’s not. If you think this book is about some religious nut finding her freak in God- it’s not. Yes, it has themes of religion and faith, but it’s only about religion in the way Star Trek is about space or Alias is about superheroes. And yes, it is, (to a lesser extent), about her search for a husband, yet it’s not really a book about romantic love or relationships either. What it is about -without sounding all new-age and faffy- is Lia’s attempts to make sense of things during a difficult period of her life, the difference being that she uses her faith as a means to work through these issues. As with any subject matter, you don’t have to share the ideal in order to understand or empathise with the experience.
It begins with a dumping. Some toad of an ex boyfriend has just dumped Lia over e-mail which prompts her to question why her life isn’t where she wants it to be. Like we are all want to do at some point after life has relentlessly and unceremoniously dumped on you for a while, she decides a change is needed. Wandering along Leicester Square, Lia hears the strains of INXS’s Need You Tonight emanating from a nearby club and experiences one of those strange epiphanic moments where things seem to come together and speak directly to your specific situation. You know how you thought Ne Yo’s So Sick perfectly epitomised your breaking up with someone (so perfectly, in fact, you were pretty sure it was written just for you)? Well, as the words of Need You Tonight float out into the street, Lia feels as though God is trying to tell her something:
After she’s finished dancing with God, she feels a bit better and clearer about what to do next: devote time and thought to God and as fair exchange, receive His help in getting what she feels is lacking from her life: a husband. But how best to go about this? Luckily, Lia has a plan, which she lays out to God for approval: go somewhere new and exciting, like Australia, meet a hermit, come face-to-face with a few hazards and overcome them manfully, with perhaps a life changing, eye-opening, near-death experience chucked in. The hermit meeting in particular seems vital. Add to this mix, of course, a gorgeous hunk of a man. Notably, God is very quiet while Lia relates her plans to him; I love how Lia draws God’s expressions as He is being narrated this litany of requests- changing from doubtful to alarmed to incredulous to oh-you-sweet-fool. Delightful.
We soon learn the reason for God’s silence:
Lia arrives in Wales to spend some time in a convent in godly pursuits. There is a distinct lack of excitement and hunks in Wales, but she finds solace in the quiet routine of a nun’s life- making community visits, taking part in group reflections, away from the bustle and boister of London. And then she gets the chance to go to Australia and it looks like her wishes may yet be fulfilled. . .
The word religion alone has a plethora of negative association attached to it today, so I really admire Lia for making this book. Even though it’s not a sanctimonious tome on righteousness or remotely preachy in tone, it’s still a brave choice in a world of numbers and marketing (hence, presumably, the slightly misleading, albeit fantastic, title). It’s refreshing to see a positive depiction of religion and the role it actually plays in the majority of believers’ lives; a spiritual filter/coping mechanism. I know I found a lot to relate to, being religious myself, but there’s plenty here to enjoy regardless. Lia’s art is lovely- a perfect complement to her narrative: the simple, clean lines and limited colour palette allow the focus to be on the story without overpowering it.
It is sometimes a struggle to come to what others perceive as the simplest, most obvious realisations, and as the book progresses Lia’s husband-searching develops into a journey of self discovery and an internal exploration of deeper problems. Her religious and spiritual introspection result in her gaining what we all would ideally like to possess- a greater confidence, sense of worth, and self-belief. It may seem like a cliche conclusion, but what is a cliche if not a common truth? And facing truths, particularly in relation to oneself, requires honesty, courage and a sense of humour; all of which this book has in spades.