#Bookvent – Celebrating my top reads of 2021
Here we have it. The final book in my #Bookvent 2021 countdown. My book of the year. Hotly contested this year but there was just something about this book which stood out, that has stayed in my mind and that captured my heart from the moment I read the book. It is snowglobes (topical for the season) and love and joy and family and friendship, and everything that you want to be reading about at Christmas. Now the author is no stranger to my #bookvent lists – she has made several over the years and has even had the number one slot before too. In fact she is one of only two two-times winners of ‘Book of the Year’ where, in spite of my love of crime fiction, neither of her books have come from the crime or mystery stable. In fact, both have been more an exploration of relationships, emotional voyages that engage and delight and left me with a combination of smiles and tears. My final #bookvent pick and my 2021 Book of the Year is …
This is How We Are Human by Louise Beech
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.
Louise Beech is the writer who absolutely refuses to be pigeonholed. No two books are the same and none really fit any single genre. Some may be genre similar, but that’s a close as you get. What is consistent from book to book, is the quality of the writing, the emotions she is able to create in me as a reader and the way in which I finish reading her books feeling completely satisfied and in awe. This Is How We Are Human is a truly beautiful book, challenging our understanding of what it means to be autistic, allowing us to see and experience the world through the eyes of Sebastian, his mother, Veronica and his new fiend, call-girl ‘Violetta’ or Isabelle as she is really known. All Sebastian wants is to experience sex. Nothing unusual in that – he is a young man of a certain age after all. Louise Beech carefully examines this need and what drives Sebastian, what he understands of relationships and of how far his mother would go to make her son happy. Certainly the steps she takes go well above and beyond the normal mother/son relationship, but as fantastical as it may seem, the book is based on a real life conversation and a young man who has inspired the author in a way which is truly good news for us as readers.
I loved Sebastian as a character. He is refreshingly direct and uninhibited, a characteristic driven from his autism, and he knows what is important to him. Right at the start of his story, that most pressing of fascinations is sex. But this book is so much more than just a tale of a twenty year old having help from his mother to find a sexual partner. It is a story of friendship and sacrifice, and not just between Sebastian and Veronica. This is Isabelle’s story too. She is far more complex and nuanced a character than her career choices may suggest. She too is devoted to her family, in much the same way Veronica is to Sebastian, and faced with impossible choices and circumstances that made my heart ache for her. I love that the author is able to create such diverse and authentic characters that I become fully immersed and invested in their stories, and I found myself completely engaged,and occasionally enraged, by all that befalls them. Isabelle is a character that elicits our sympathy, Veronica our understanding and Sebastian our absolute love and laughter. The story would not be whole without any one of them and their interactions are so acutely observed and portrayed in the way Louise Beech excels at. She 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.
This is a story of love – familial, emotional and physical – of family, friendship, loss, sacrifice, the need in all of us to belong, the endless search for acceptance without 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. The ending, witnessing the whole journey that Isabelle and Sebastian go on, brought a tear to my eye, something that Louise Beech has prior form for, and I can honestly say that I can no longer listen to Suddenly by Billy Ocean without smiling as it brings me right back to Sebastian, the very heart, and soul, of this book. Packed with emotion, and multidimensional characters, this is a story that is bound to resonate with many for a myriad of reasons and which I knew from the start would be a truly unforgettable read.
You can read my full, rambling, review of This Is How We Are Human here.
Happy #bookvent reading all