Winner: First Novel Award
The judges said the story of Trinidadian Betty Ramdin written in Trinidadian prose, was ‘teeming with life’ and ‘full of unforgettable characters.’
Jill McDonald, CEO of Costa Coffee, said: “Five outstanding books and five very worthy Award winners – what a wonderful way to start the year. The Costa Book Awards are all about recognising great writing and a good read and we’re very proud to be announcing such a brilliant collection of books for readers to explore and enjoy.”
With its unabashed sentimentalism and soap opera-style plot themes — deadbeat dads, family grudges, forgiveness and redemption — Love After Love falls squarely into the melodrama genre and succeeds on those terms. Persaud is a talented and engaging storyteller; narration and dialogue are brisk and lively, with liberal sprinklings of Trini slang. The novel crams in a huge amount of positive messaging, making a remarkably thorough sweep of socially marginalised groups: victims of domestic violence, gay people, migrant workers and self-harming youngsters are sympathetically represented. Persaud’s heart is clearly in the right place, but there is something to be said for subtlety and getting your point across by stealth, rather than blunt, earnest force.
For the denouement, Persaud puts all her faith in the Aristotelian notion that offstage violence has the greatest impact. It's a gamble, especially in a novel that thrives on the tensions generated by overlapping viewpoints, and it doesn't entirely pay off. It feels abrupt to have one narrator delivering shocking news to another about somebody with whom the reader has lived for 350-odd pages. But perhaps Persaud's point is that, in reality, violence is never suspenseful and is usually a banal waste of human potential. Still, it is a jarring moment in an otherwise assured novel that, for all its concern with brutality, holds the reader in a joyful embrace.
The novel drops you like a pebble into the foul waters of Betty Ramdin’s toxic relationship with her abusive husband, Sunil, and we go deep, fast, witnessing his cruelty towards her and their young son. Persaud lets us know right from the beginning that she won’t flinch from the worst of human behaviour but will describe, graphically, at times, scenes other authors might shy away from. Be prepared for life in all of its colours, she seems to say, and we feel violence will return to these characters and, indeed, acts of violence leading to murder bookend the novel. Don’t be put off, as the novel is funny too, and full of life.
One of the reasons Love After Love is so delightful is that it reads like a modern meditation on the different kinds of love as catalogued by the ancient Greeks, crossed with the characters’ deliciously gossipy self-reflection. Persaud gives us a captivating interrogation of love in all its forms, how it heals and how it harms, the twists and torments of obsession (mania), sex and romance (eros), family (storge), friendship (philia), acceptance or rejection by the community, and so on. But much like the Derek Walcott poem from which it takes its title, the novel is ultimately concerned with the possibilities of that elated and oddly elegiac moment when we finally come to love ourselves.