Today I try to do justice to the latest beautiful book to be served up by the very talented Louise Beech, This Is How We Are Human. I love Louise’s work and once again she has demonstrated why she is nigh on impossible to define in terms of the genre of fiction she writes. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to join in and to Orenda Books for the advance copy of the book. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
When the mother of an autistic young man hires a call girl to make him happy, three lives collide in unexpected and moving ways … changing everything. A devastatingly beautiful, rich and thought-provoking novel that will warm your heart.
Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely.
Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy … she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.
Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.
When these three lives collide – intertwine in unexpected ways – everything changes. For everyone.
A topical and moving drama about a mother’s love for her son, about getting it wrong when we think we know what’s best, about the lengths we go to care for family … to survive … This Is How We Are Human is a searching, rich and thought-provoking novel with an emotional core that will warm and break your heart.
If you thought you had Louise Beech’s writing style pegged, think again. Once more she has defied being pigeonholed into a genre and brought us a book where the only similarity to her other work would be the beauty of the writing and the power of the emotion that she is able to elicit in her readers.
This is the story of Sebastian, a young man who is twenty years, six months and an ever increasing number of days old. Sebastian has needs, like any other man. He wants a relationship, he wants love and, perhaps more urgently, he really wants sex. But the one thing that you need to understand about Sebastian is that, aside from the seemingly obvious libido issues, he is not like many other men his age. Sebastian is autistic and whilst women may find him attractive, their bias and their prejudice turns them away as soon as they realise he has a disability. It makes him the subject of ridicule amongst his peers and his lack of the normal social and physical filters make his life increasingly complicated. And this is where the beauty of this story begins as Sebastian’s mother, Veronica, strives to help her son find happiness, no matter what the cost. Enter, stage left, ‘Violetta’ or Isabelle as she is really known, escort, student nurse and devoted daughter, who agrees to help Veronica for the sake of her own father.
Now those who have ever been to an event with Louise Beech will think that this book is just a deliberate and unashamed attempt to make her publisher allow more sex into her books as she knows it drives her editor/publisher crazy. And trust me, there is plenty of sex in this book – at least for Sebastian who has an agreement with Violetta/Isabelle for three days a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday at exactly seven-thirty. But if you bring this book back to just the lustful longings of a young man, then you are doing the book, and the author, a great disservice. This book is about so much more than that. Sex is important to Sebastian, but then so are many things – eggs, his music, his fish – and the more we learn about him the more I fell in love with his character. He is refreshingly direct, and so perfectly observed and portrayed that it is impossible not to be saddened by his treatment or warmed by the way in which we see him, and his life, develop. He is not a character who requires a readers sympathy, even when things seem to be against him, but I certainly found myself rooting for him and smiling at that unashamed enthusiasm he has for everything he engages in.
Isabelle is a complex character and whilst it would be easy to dismiss her as ‘just an escort’, Louise Beech has created her in such a way that if there is any sympathy to be felt in this book, it would be for her. Although she appeared to have lived the golden life until more recently, her dedication to her father is admirable and her commitment to fulfil his wish not to be treated in a hospital really pushes her to the edge. The sense of that gradual erosion of her spirit caused by a series of awful jobs, and one shocking ‘date’ which, whilst hard to read, is handled with real care by the author, make you realise that she has as much to gain and to benefit from her arrangement with Veronica, as Sebastian does, although for very different reasons.
Louise Beech has handled the whole story with sensitivity, ensuring that the reader is able to empathise with the characters without ever feeling pity, to laugh when they laugh and feel anger when they are mistreated. Whilst you can argue back and forth about the decision Veronica takes to help Sebastian, there is never any doubt about her love for her son. And that is one of the key themes of this book – how far someone will go to protect and help the person they love. More than that, it is a book which makes you think about your own natural prejudices and assumptions about characters who might not quite meet the social and societal ‘norms’ be it through a difference in genetics or their career choices. It is about people pushed to the absolute limit and about the surprises that letting go can bring about. Seeing the journeys that Isabelle and Sebastian go on, both the pain and the joy, will bring a tear to the eye and, as any book by Louise Beech will often do, makes a real impression that lasts far beyond the turn of the final page.
This is a story of love – familial, emotional and physical – of family, friendship, loss, sacrifice, the need in all of us to belong, the seemingly endless search for someone who can finally accept us for who we are with no judgment, and a whole manner of things in between. Above all else it is a beautifully written story that is full of hope and which contains some of the most wonderfully complex and yet startlingly uncomplicated characters you could ever hope to meet. Packed with emotion, multidimensional characters, this is a story that is bound to resonate with many for a myriad of reasons, and which deserves to be on many a ‘best of’ list at the end of the year.
It also has sex. Plenty of that. But all that messy and unnecessary stuff aside 😉, I’m still going to give it one of these because it has definitely earned it.
About the Author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.
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Books By Louise Beech