- Book: All Men Love Leah
- Location: Pisa
- Author: Ksenija Nikolova
This is a fairly short and densely told story of the relationship between Enzo and Leah. Enzo is just turning 30, still at home with his parents, with the heart and flair of an artist, but chronically hampered by shyness and a lack of confidence and belief in himself. Below the surface lurks an anger and a childlike need to be cajoled to expand his horizons.
They have a serendipitous encounter and she takes him under her wing. She is a woman of the world and becomes his enabler and like a free spirit compared with his lugubrious countenance and behaviour. The novel tells the story of the progression of their relationship as she cajoles him to venture out and do things – however frightening – that others might take in their stride. The author dedicates the work to “all the wallflowers out there , trying their best and silently battling mental health problems”.
So far so good.
The style of writing is at times quite wooden and can be incredibly repetitive (which is probably a device that seems to be reassuring to Enzo). The text is also quite simply – I might even say simplistically – laid out. The range of vocabulary feels limited to express some of the experiences – food is often ‘delicious’ and I found myself yearning for the author to use new and differently descriptive words. It may be that the author, given the Enzo’s childhood experiences, intends the narrative to be conveyed through the eyes of a child aged around 10, but it doesn’t to my mind work.
I looked all over the book for the name of the translator. I couldn’t find one. I therefore assumed the author had written the text herself. However, at the end a nameless translator is acknowledged, it is stated that this is the first of the author’s books translated into English. Given the growing vocal movement to put pressure on publishers to acknowledge the important input that translators have, this seems like a real omission.
The quality of the writing feels quite stilted and the structure can sometimes feel plain wrong: “The woman hands me the tickets and I leave the queue holding it in my hands” or “When you get used to a pair of shoes, you wear it until it’s worn out“. Can wine be ‘homemade‘? I certainly think of soup and culinary dishes that are homemade, but not wine – maybe it’s an American thing and the term ‘house’ wine doesn’t exist.
This is a two dimensional narrative of mental health issues. The why’s and wherefore’s of Enzo’s psychological state are explained but the range and timbre of subtlety that would make this exploration of a loosely defined couple relationship – with mental health issues at the heart – a poignant and reflective journey never come to the fore.
The book really needed a much tighter editing hand before it was launched into the public domain.