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Novel set in Hackney

4th August 2022

Is This Love? by C E Riley, novel set in Hackney, London.

Novel set in Hackney


This novel isn’t really one for location enthusiasts but is a book that has a well worn premise with a very different and credible slant. It is about a couple breaking up – told through the eyes of one partner and largely through solicitors’ letters and correspondence.  The whole unhappy scenario feels like a vortex, as it draws the reader into the enmeshed couple’s 6 years together (2 married) and the subsequent relationship breakdown.

It packs a punch with its unusual approach. We don’t know too much about the couple, whether even they are same-sex or heterosexual. What we do know is the ‘truth’, for what it is worth, can be manipulated and weaponised. Sometimes, as the book opens, it is not altogether clear from which partner’s perspective the story is being told – is it J’s perspective, or is it J’s partner’s slant? This just highlights the convoluted nature of an adult intimate relationship. It is never totally black and white. It then settles into a rhythm and underlines the split agendas each partner has. It also highlights the invidious nature of a couple relationship where power is out of kilter.

One partner cites how the other has demonstrated behaviour which is coercively controlling and gives examples. We learn much about the partner who has initiated the separation through solicitor’s letters, diary entries, letters and e mails. We hear about J’s responses and feelings to what is going on and it feels quite personal because J addresses her ex partner as ‘you’, which is a nifty device to pull the reader on side.

Novel set in HackneyAs an outsider, how can one judge? Yet there is a profound and consistent narrative of one partner being described as more powerful. Abusive behaviour is described in detail and lodged as the basis for the split. The other partner minimises, blames the other person, shows aggression towards inanimate things (walls/household items), which is an acknowledged example of domestic abuse and violence, and ultimately a grab for the throat is acknowledged by both parties – although the severity of the move is disputed. You know what? When I worked as a couple therapist, if there was an indication of throttling, however minimal, it was at that point that red flag of critical domestic abuse was raised. It is very easy to kill another human being by applying pressure in certain areas at the throat. Remember, 2 women per week (and it is mainly women) die at the hands of an abuser in the UK.

Then one partner demonstrates growing vengeance, acting out grievances to punish, followed up by repeated calls to family members and friends to elicit a response from the ex.

When you put together all the indicators, this is truly a catalogue of abusive behaviour. It is interesting, however, to observe the manipulation going on, and certainly the reader is not immune, being pulled this way and that. But that is what abuse is, it sows the seed of doubt, it reforms truth, it is sly and above all it is powerful…..

“Love is never controlling” says one partner; but I beg to differ – it certainly can be! The novel is astutely written, incredibly readable and very thought provoking.

Tina for the Tripfiction Team

Catch the author on Twitter @ceriley7

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