Writers and Lovers (2020) – Lily King

Title:Writers and Lovers
Author:Lily King
Date published:2020
Publishers:Picador/Pan Macmillan
Star Rating:⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Disclaimer:Pan Macmillan kindly sent me a review copy in exchange for an honest review

If you picked up Writers and Lovers, read the blurb and put it back on the shelf without reading it there is very little chance of you understanding quite how inaccurate this summary truly is. If you’re hoping to sell this novel honestly then you are also going to fail rather miserably because the blurb has lost the essence of Lily King’s novel. Yes there is a protagonist who falls for two lovers, and yes this protagonist feels torn, but in the end it is not two very different men who will prove to be the conundrum in which our heroine finds herself facing.

Casey Kasem is thirty-one years old, wallowing in debt as a waitress in her former college town and living in a potting shed where she spends her off hours working on a novel that she has been systematically writing for the last six years. Before living in the potting shed and working at a restaurant Casey had been living in Spain with a man named Paco, and was forced to return home after her mother died unexpectedly. Six weeks after her mother’s death Casey attends an eight week writer’s retreat, does no real writing but instead begins a passionate affair with a poet whose life is just as complicated and painful as her own. It does not end well and Casey is left raw and no closer to being the writer she’d always hoped to be. Her life continues in a spiral of mundane activities that include serving tables, chatting with her friend Harry, walking her landlord’s dog and attending writer’s events with her friend Muriel.

One evening Muriel and Casey attend the book signing of Thunder Road by Oscar Kolton. Too broke to actually buy the book Casey ends up in conversation with a young man named Silas who asks for her number, but days later he leaves town on the day of their first date. Before Casey has time to be angry over the end of something that never even began, Oscar Kolton and his two sons walk into her restaurant one night and Casey finds herself intrigued by the widower and the children who seem determined to charm her. After a few dates with the writer, Silas will make a comeback and suddenly Casey is juggling two writers whilst her own heart is preoccupied with grief.

As is so often the case the broken-hearted and the sad will usually find one another and Casey finds herself amidst some very sad people. As she goes through the motions of her life which include ‘financial quicksand’, a health scare and a non-existent relationship with her brother Caleb whom she hasn’t seen since their mother’s funeral and a father who was once disgraced for being a ‘peeping tom’, Casey’s mourning is devastating. Then she begins to experience panic attacks…

“This is not nothing”

This novel is brutally honest about mental health and loss, and as Casey navigates these feelings and emotions she is also going through the very real and not very glamorous process of publishing a novel. She mingles with other writers whilst simultaneously trying to pay the bills at a job that has managed to break her writing spirit. Despite her feelings of being unfulfilled, Casey’s work life at the restaurant is entertaining and it is also where she meets Oscar who indirectly forces her to re-examine her life and what she truly wants from it.

“But I can’t go out with a guy whose written eleven and half pages in three years. That kind of thing is contagious”

Casey finds herself struggling to choose between Silas and Oscar, but this novel is not about romantic love. King’s novel is, if anything, an ode (or a love letter if you will) to writing and writers. Writers and Lovers is about struggling writers, famous writers, humble poets and pretentious best selling authors. It is a novel about writers who fall in love with other writers, and about the love of writing novels.

Through raw and honest observations it is very easy to fall in love with Casey, and to relate to her incredible pain over her mother’s death, and because of that loss and her fear of being rejected her anxiety is almost tangible. King’s portrayal of panic is incredibly accurate, and it is this heart-racing feeling that allows this novel to be far more than the ‘romance novel’ it claims to be. This is a novel about the acceptance that it is perfectly okay to feel pain because all of our individual experiences are “not nothing”, and that not all relationships are meant to last forever. Most of all it is about writing, and why we love it. Even when we don’t.

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