How do we define love? What does it mean to love? Is there a right or wrong way?
With Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, Mira Tudor takes us on a journey through a tangled web of romance-ridden lives that starts and ends with Henriette, a talented sculptress and “beautiful redhead”, who finds herself drawn to Pamfil, a pianist/Casanova known for his monthly parties. This all despite her relationship with Haralambie, a writer.
The dialogue-heavy narrative might seem hard going at times, but it is actually quite apt, as the story primarily features middle-aged girlfriends drinking what seems to be endless cups of peppermint tea and talking about not only those oh-so-relatable things such as weight gain, boy troubles and minor existential crises, but sharing shrewd and interesting perceptions on art and society. The reader is also treated to a raw and authentic yet, despite it’s many philosophical digressions, accessible glimpse into the Romanian art scene. On the surface, it might just seem to be a close group of bohemian artists hanging out at parties and warbling about art but there is some provocative substance underneath.
(Not to mention some humorous tidbits. “Ela had become quite a barnacle” was one of my personal favourites.)
The story is told via chronological jumps, which was often difficult to keep pace with, but the flashbacks revealed more about the artists’ backgrounds and, more often than not, how they met Pamfil, and the threads begin to come together.
There’s Henriette’s affair, where discussions involve the story behind Rodin’s The Kiss and how “a representation of adultery came to be seen as an expression of pure, youthful love.” Henriette’s extra-curricular activities open up space for much discussion in the group, and one that the reader can’t help but feel a little excluded from because the relationship between Henriette and Haralambie is never really depicted in a way that could help us relate to her decisions. Haralambie seems a bit dull and not a great match for Henriette, but why didn’t she just leave him? If we are supposed to sympathise with her, I need more detail.
It is, all things said and done, a tale of finding your path to happiness, wherever that might lead and whatever that might entail, and however questionable it might seem. Alice, her sister, sums it up rather succinctly.
I know you loved them both, in different ways.
Then there’s Ela’s depression caused by intense infatuation with, yeah you guessed, Pamfil. Ela is also in a relationship at the time, and her zero-to-sixty drop into the abyss is perhaps not too realistic, as again, the relationship is not depicted in any real detail. It does stir up some tension in the group though, because it’s Henriette who’s with Pamfil and not Ela. Gosh, haven’t we all been there at one point in our lives?
What is it about this Pamfil guy??
Every woman in PAL (great abbreviation, right?) seems to have had something to do with Pamfil at some point in their lives. He appears to be the fulcrum of these women’s romances, a slimy man (sorry, but there is nothing likeable about him whatsoever) that (hopefully) teaches our ladies what they probably don’t want in a relationship. Take Ela, for example, who fell hard (understatement) for him and then spent the next 3 years writing poetry and philosophising about what it taught her.
“He crushed me, all right, but then he made me discover passion, and through passion I have come to feel more love,” Ela said.
Although not always completely relatable for this bookworm, and despite belonging to a genre that I would normally never touch with a bargepole, Mira Tudor’s debut novel raises some interesting questions on a debate that has had humans in knots since, well, forever.
Is there a right way to love?
Despite the characters’ artful pontificating, and discussions of concepts such as “Plato’s rational love of beauty” it seems to this bookworm that this is the real question lingering in the pages.
And I might be wrong, but I think the answer is no.
Love the way that brings you the most happiness. But preferably without cheating.
Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel is available here.
You can find the author here.