The surface of the book is beautifully crafted and the tensions in the initial love triangle are handled with microscopic attention – both of which nicely propel the plot. But Reeves’s central theme of behaviourism is sometimes stretched a little thin. That Ed’s training as a psychologist underpins his wider credo – that “people are malleable, as are their behaviors” – makes complete sense. Yet, when he reflects, out drinking with local politicians, that he is engaged, Pavlov-like, in “conditioning” them to associate future legislative favours with the feeling of the whisky in their bellies at that moment, this seems rather forced.
Novels about relationships are themselves a form of behavioural psychology, and Reeves’s notes on the body and soul of a fictional practitioner of the discipline are a remarkable case study in the unpredictability and tenacity of attraction. While Cohen may be right about there being no cure for love, The Behaviour of Love has contributed a fresh and memorable addition to the literature on the condition.
Virginia Reeves was deservedly longlisted for the Man Booker Prize with her 2016 debut, Work Like Any Other, about a black farmhand forced to shoulder the blame for his white boss after a fatal accident in Twenties Alabama.... Reeves’s theme — as in her debut — is the limits of forgiveness. She’s a superb writer, moving with crisp, swift strokes over the thorny question of how far people ever change.