I was delighted during last year’s ReadIndies when Karen reviewed and loved Simons’s previous novel An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful (which I too thought magnificent). I remembered I had a copy of his then new one, put it to the top of the TBR, and took an additional 12 months to read it! If it’s any consolation to the author, I have another novel that I meant to read last year too. That remains unread. If I was Jake Tully, the protagonist and anti-hero of The Responsibility of Love, I’d probably be cavalier and quip , I wish I’d read the other one. BUT NO! I don’t mean it. How could I when at times Jake had me spluttering into my whisky glass?!
As whisky was needed to cope with Jake’s outrageous behaviour, I’d better explain.
Jake Tully is a middle-aged debut novelist, shortlisted for a major prize, on his way across London to the prize-giving ceremony. If he wins, he is going to read out his Decca List – named for the record company that once notoriously turned down the Beatles – in a speech decrying all those who had rejected him on his rise to the top. As there were many, it would have been a long speech. * However, Jake Tully Day, as he calls it, turns out not to be the one when he delivers karma to those without the vision to publish his masterpiece, but the day when karma comes calling for him …
Alternating with the NOW, the narrative which describes Jake’s tortured journey across London, is the THEN which explains the multitudinous chips on his shoulders. Most of which are self-inflicted. As I intimated earlier, Jake can be cavalier and he makes costly mistakes, resulting in the loss of his friendships and his marriage. Now this could be maudling, but as Jake is a man behaving badly in a Francis Plug kind of way, it is not.
For starters, how to explain that his determinedly ex, Francesca, is escorting him across London, trying her best to get him to the ceremony compos mentis and in one piece. Yet during the compulsory interview with an Emily-Maitlis-like interviewer, decked out in her faux military attire, Jakes presents the following picture:
You were half-way slid down your chair, limbs splayed out like a bloody octopus. Your dinner suit is torn at the knee, your shirt is covered in blood, your hand is all bandaged up.
I have a theory about why Simons puts Jake through all this. I imagine the digital nomad going through agonies during lockdown. So, in the vein of “if I have to suffer, so do you”, Jake is put through the grinder. Also he is the perfect conduit for jaundiced views about the state of modern publishing. Now I cannot possibly validate any of those sentiments, though I suspect there’s truth in there somewhere. I can say that Jake’s bitterness towards his ex-best friend, turned international bestselling crime writer, and his rant about the publishing industry and the media in the afore-mentioned television interview are tear-inducingly funny.
But what has the responsibility of love got to do with all this? The quick answer is that it is the title of Jake’s shortlisted novel, which takes as its theme “Are we forever responsible for those we have tamed?” I.e those we have allowed to fall in love with us?” It is a concept from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, one which Jake first has to deal with when he is gifted a puppy as a small boy. Throughout his life there are those who feel they are responsible, and those who don’t. Despite his behaviour I believe Jake belongs to the former and his novel is an attempt to deal with his guilt.
Simons delivers one final surprise with a supposedly serialised version of his protagonist’s novel, the tone and cadence of which is markedly different to what has gone before. It is an inverse image: Catherine being the female counterpart to Jake, she is serious, independent, musical. Yet careless with the feelings of others. One such episode will leave her emotionally scarred for life,
Catherine’s story illustrates the consequences when those who are loved accept no responsibility for it. Jake’s penning her story might just be the making of him.
• Incidentally Jake Tully’s novel is eventually published by a small independent publisher. Which is why Simons’s novel, had to wait until Reading Independent Publishers Month rolled around once more. (That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it!)
The Responsibility of Love is published by BackPage Press, a company founded by sports journalists over 10 years ago to bring sports stories to the world. It is one of only 4 novels on their list.
I didn’t know he had another novel published – must look out for it on the strength of my enjoyment of the previous one and your review here. Has Simons stopped travelling the world now?
Simons has six published novels – I’ve read 4. You’ll find reviews of The Credit Draper / The Liberation of Celia Kahn in Lizzy’s Literary Life (Volume One). I have two more in the TBR.
He has threatened that this one is his last novel. I hope not.
Now that lockdown is over, he may well be digitally nomading again. I don’t know for sure though.
Ooh now that’s music to my ears. Thanks Lizzy, I shall take a look at your reviews
Hola! Thanks for your review and for the continued support of my work over the years. Likewise Karen at BookerTalk for her support of An Exquisite Sense which is being released next week in the UK as a ten-year anniversary edition and then in the United States for the first time in May. You were right to say that my digital nomadism was curtailed by lock-down and since then I have hung up my hat for a while in Spain where I currently reside and have gone back on my threat to stop writing novels. I am two-thirds of the way through my next one set almost entirely in America. Hopefully Saraband will publish next year. Best wishes and keep on reviewing – there is so little space given to writer reviews these days in national press so every little bit counts!