My Hundred Lovers
Susan Johnson, Allen & Unwin
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that a book called My Hundred Lovers didn’t include spiritual love or love of God among its tributes.
Most other loves were covered off: love of country, a child, a grandmother, same and opposite sex, love of wine, husband, gelato, love of hands, love of friends and more exotic and erotic loves I won’t go into here.
The first chapter is titled “Gods” and the second “Incarnation”. But they’re not the kind Christians are used to thinking about (so, you’ve been warned).
Johnson is a clever writer and there are some beautiful passages in this book.
“Soon, anyone would be able to read our histories in the fault lines of our skins, in the former succulence of our lips, in the archaeology of our shameless, ruined faces. How vain we started, how humbled we finished.”
Unfortunately, these passages float like islands of beauty. And, despite the eventful evolution of its protagonist, the main feeling I was left with after reading the book was one of emptiness. Ecclesiastes puts it best: “All is vanity and striving after wind.”
The loves Johnson illuminates turn up bare truisms about human nature.
In her closing observations the narrator said, “Love did not really stretch to forgiveness” (and I confess this observation made me sad).
Love of community didn’t feature much either (more’s the pity).
Towards the end of the book the narrator said she preferred herself now, “less succulent and more loving, humbled, loved”.
It tied back to an earlier revelation.
“Throughout, my knowledge of history was suspect. Like everyone, my sensibility was personal and I experienced history from the feet up. I was full of private obstinacies, history’s bit player, always looking the wrong way.”
The book reminded me that it is never too late to walk humbly or love justly. It’s never too late to try to spread the net beyond those who are easy to love; to wake up.
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