Book Review of The Romantic (2004) by Barbara Gowdy
Barbara Gowdy’s The Romantic is one of my favourite books of all time. I read it one summer during University and fell in love, similar to how one falls in love with a stubborn toddler- unceremoniously and whiplash-like. Don’t let the title fool you- it is not at all soppy.
The young protagonist Louise is the epitome of good-natured, and is quite observant of the human condition even as a small child. It tells the story of perseverance and survival after an overly-passive father and his young, equally pragmatic daughter are left abandoned, and the change that occurs in their family dynamic after a new family moves down the street.
Louise, at only nine years old, is left heartbroken at the disappearance of her mother and she soon falls for the calm demeanour and natural maternal tendencies of Greta Richter- the new neighbour. But it is Greta’s son, Abel, who soon captures the attention of Louise.
Louise and Abel’s ‘love’ of one another is temperamentally one sided, but neither does that deter either of them. Their bond remains strong throughout childhood and adolescence.
Far from depressing, but is in fact saddening due to its accuracy, its true portrayal of life, and the knowledge that comes when recognizing the end is so very near.
Gowdy is an extraordinary writer, who is magnificent just the same on a bad day. Her prose is clear and sentimental- relatable to anyone who has experienced love, love that does not quite meet up to one’s expectations. Gowdy’s prose allows space for contemplation; and softness that not so often presents itself with conviction. Her characters are crafted with precision and good humour, often wry. Her eloquence is unperturbed. You easily find the tenderness and passivity in the small moments, of both inner-monologue and family interaction.
There occur flickers of recognition with cool shivers. There will no doubt be a physical manifestation of your emotional responses by the end of this novel. Far from depressing, but is in fact saddening due to its accuracy, its true portrayal of life, and the knowledge that comes when recognizing the end is so very near.
I felt both humbled and angered, futile in my attempts to make the characters follow a path I was powerless to sway. But nevertheless, I loved it all the same.