I confess that I have a fascination with reading books in which people speak candidly about their efforts at dating and establishing relationships. It’s nothing to do with Schadenfreude, but rather a voyeuristic curiosity about how other people go about trying to find their “soulmate” or “kindred spirit”. Here in this book, Helene Pascal, a mature French expatriate living in London, relates her experiences with a variety of men with whom she came into contact (both via phone and/or in person), courtesy of the personal ads. One of her observations (from Chapter 14) about James, a 60-ish man from Devon, struck a chord with me ---
“The following day, a Sunday, was a day of grace. I was full of him, full of us, the profound harmony of the previous day was all-pervasive. Life indeed had taken a new turn and I couldn’t wait for him to call, I wanted his voice, to know when we could meet again: next weekend? I could free myself easily. I imagined my utter bliss at being met by him at the station, a whole day with him of driving for walks, talking, talking, and maybe taking risks, like holding hands…. It was all so heady, I felt twenty years old again.”
Yet, James proved to be an illusory hope, for a variety of reasons. There was also Owen, a 60-ish gentleman, recently widowed, a well-off businessman, and an avid Francophile who, from the first date, was thoroughly taken in with Helene. For Helene’s part, while she got on well with Owen, who was very affable, engaging, and shared most of her interests, she felt no chemistry for him. Nevetheless, I had hoped that perhaps love would grow between them. But it was not to be.
There were other men, too, such as: Emmanuel the Frenchman who forsook Helene for a woman in Corsica; Liam the Irishman (who came across as a bit of a misanthrope); the American expatriate widowed professor; and Mike a 60ish bloke, widowed, buff, matter-of-fact, and mirthless.
Through it all, Helene is resilient. Her story shows that the quest for love and understanding, something that most of us can relate to, doesn’t run smooth. Especially when one has reached a mature age and becomes more cognizant of one’s mortality. Sharing one’s experiences, pastimes, and everyday existence takes on an overriding and singular importance. Life has both a completeness and contentedness to it when someone in search of love and understanding is able to establish and maintain a loving and mutually supportive relationship with that special person. Here is a book that I feel single, middle-aged people desirous of a meaningful, romantic relationship can appreciate.