A wildly popular newsletter turned book, with essays from names such as Alain de Botton, Esther Perel and Roxane Gay, this will challenge, complicate and ultimately expand your understanding of love, says Alice Kemp-Habib
Conversations on Love, the expansive, thoughtfully-composed debut from journalist and editor Natasha Lunn, could just as well be called Conversations on Loss, so rigorous is her analysis of the two subjects. Made up of three parts – how do we find love? How do we sustain it? And how do we survive once we lose it? – it is pensive, probing and a real joy to read.
Out on July 15th, it started life as a twice-monthly newsletter, which investigated love via interviews with prominent writers and experts. The book builds upon this premise, weaving together interviews (with Alain de Botton, Esther Perel and Roxane Gay among others – the fact that many have their own titles on the subject of love only adds to the book’s authority) with personal reflections from the author herself. The result is a Bildungsroman of sorts; throughout, Lunn grapples with the devastating miscarriage which “drained colour” from the early years of her marriage. By the end, her understanding of love – and ours – has been challenged, complicated and ultimately expanded.
Refreshingly, Lunn forgoes an obsession with eros (romantic and sexual love, although there’s plenty of that, too) and interrogates the L-word in all of its diverse forms. Ayisha Malik tells of finding love in faith and work, Candice Carty-Williams of the importance of wooing your friends and Poorna Bell of the unique bond between siblings. Paired with Lunn’s essays, which prove enriching bookends to each interview, the book is as comprehensive a treatise on love as one might hope to find.
But Lunn’s exploration of loss is just as thorough; it is this which provides the book with a real emotional weight. Loss of the people we mourn, yes, but also the quotidian losses that weave their way through all of our lives. The loss of an imagined future when a relationship ends, the loss of places we once called home, the loss of old versions of self as we grow. “Development demands loss,” says Stephen Grosz at one point. “It’s unbearable, we resist it, but if we are to grow we must endure the pain”.
Particularly poignant is journalist Melanie Reid on the horse riding accident that left her paralysed from the chest down. She touches on the losses of physicality, independence and sex as she knew it. Here, and elsewhere, Lunn’s skills as an interviewer shine. She is empathetic and shows a genuine interest in her subjects, probing them to peel back the layers of their experiences. While this certainly shows journalistic prowess, Lunn also completed a course in couples’ counselling and psychotherapy, and it shows in her thoughtful lines of questioning. This means that, for the reader, there is a wealth of “learnings” and “takeaways” to be gleaned. I could barely go a page without heavy-underlining some sentence or another.
One such sentence was Lunn’s revelation, in the book’s final pages, that “love and loss were not separate, consecutive stages, but two sides of the same coin. Grief did not follow or replace love – each thing existed inside the other. And loss was not a faraway thing, but part of every loving, fading moment”.
Pre-order Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn, £14.99, here, out July 15