If only life, and love, was more like a romantic comedy.
In its rarefied world, love is complicated but achievable, misunderstandings are always sorted out (usually at airports) and the soulmate factor is so pronounced and undeniable that it’s all but a given that the couple in question will be together for life.
It helps of course in the creation of this confected imagining of romantic perfection, that the films always finish when the meet-cuted couple are loved up and staring happily into each other’s lovestruck eyes.
But what happens the next morning or three weeks later when the gloss has worn off and day-to-day life in all its aggravating banality has reared its ugly head again?
That’s the million dollar question at the immensely appealing and thoughtfully written heart of The Two of Us, a novel which dares to wonder what love is like when the honeymoon sheen has worn away.
Now, before you recoil thinking this is one of those dark, dismal books where people are perpetually miserable and the world is a joyless cacophony of hopes dashed and dreams smashed, you need to be reassured that author Andy Jones is very much a believer in the idea of love.
There are a great many sweet, quiet moments in The Two of Us where the near-unassailable bond between protagonists Fisher and Ivy is reaffirmed again and again, with both people acknowledging, usually after an argument or a gross misaligning of perception, that they really are head over heels for each other.
“People talk about chemistry, and perhaps it was–something molecular, something transmitted, something genetic. Whatever the mechanism, there was something about Ivy that immediately made me want to not sleep with her. And what higher compliment can a scoundrel pay a lady? Not that it matters, but at the time, I was going through a phase where I wasn’t looking for any kind of commitment beyond those to personal hygiene and discretion. I had broken up with my girlfriend six months earlier, I was young, I was free, I was … well, let’s just say I was being generous with my affections. Then along came Ivy with her handsome, uncontrived beauty, trailing pheromones, nonchalance and easy humour.
Not that any of that matters. What matters is that we met. And what matters most is what happens next.” (P. 2)
So, love as an idea and enduring reality is very much acknowledged and celebrated through the book’s highly readable 320 or so pages.
Refreshingly, though, The Two of Us goes beyond the Cupid arrows and rose petal floors to talk about the fact that when the initial googley-eyed rush is over – in the case of Ivy and Fisher it’s an intensely together nineteen days in which the world is held at bay and love gets a chance to do its life-altering thing – the shocking reality of life must be dealt with.
Some people handle this transition with aplomb and nary a false step; they are, however, a freakish minority with most of us mere mortals like Fisher and Ivy who graduate from days of sex and pizza to going back to work with more than few awkwardly-executed, messily done backward steps.
Rom-coms aren’t supposed to be this way but real life, all too often is, and the great liberating pleasure of The Two of Us is how assuringly honest it is in just about every respect.
We bear witness to Ivy and Fisher talking sweet nothings to each other and snuggling in bed close to each other, unsure of a lot of things and possessed of scant knowledge about the other but certain that they are meant to be together, but we also see them losing it bigtime at each other, temporarily convinced that the other person is the very worst thing about their life.
It’s not true, of course, but when you are unreasonably angry and swimming manically in your own insecurities and emotional immaturity, it’s all too easy to convince yourself that the other person is Satan in human form.
Sanity, emotional and otherwise, usually reasserts itself, but not always and The Two of Us is a delightfully reassuring take on the truth of modern relationships, where every day is a choice to keep loving that person you hold closest.
Finding your soulmate is always an inestimable joy but this transcendent discovery never exists in a vacuum and must constantly compete with the pressures of everyday life, with career and family interference and with your own flawed expression as a person.
After all, while we might aim loftily high, we often fall agonisingly short when it comes to the messy business of being alive, and loving someone else, a truth that the novel embraces wholeheartedly, honestly and with an equal mix of humour and soberly dark interludes.
The Two of Us is such a pleasure to read because it presents love as it actually is, a truthfully expressed less than elegant mashing of heartfelt good intention and dreadfully inelegant execution, which very few of us getting even remotely right and which is never as perfectly rendered as we would like it to be.
“I [Fisher] close my eyes, and I feel like crying. This is not how it’s meant to happen. We should be wearing matching jumpers with gaudy reindeers embroidered on the fronts; we should be walking on the Common, playing Bing Crosby on the stereo, roasting chestnuts at gas mark seven. Not this; not Ivy trying to force a smile while I lie in her brother’s pungent bed, incapacitated with cold, doubt, and a hard-edged hangover.” (P. 204)
Fisher and Ivy are thoroughly likeable protagonists because they feel so real; it is hard not to identify with them because who of us hasn’t fallen in love and become convinced of the inviolable goodness of our union only to find it’s not perfect after all when life gets in the way?
Set in London, The Two of Us is a charming romp through the exhausting and exhilarating journey of love, one which will keep reading enthusiastically from beginning to end, eager to see where Ivy and Fisher land as they cling on for deal life to the rollercoaster of love, true love.
It has all kinds of lessons to impart, all of them revolving around the sage ideas that we should take those we love for granted and we should never assume they are the ones at fault because the odds are good, that it is fallible, inconsistent us mucking things up and that rather point fingers outward, we should perhaps be taking a good look inward to see if that is where the fault lies.
A love letter to love in its purest, most real, down in the trenches of life form, The Two of Us is a genuine delight, a novel which knows love can be amazing, wonderful and all the good things but which also appreciates that what comes after the falling in love can be the scariest and uncertain, but handled well, the absolute best time of your life and that you should hang in there come what may, your eye firmly on what the other person needs and wants, and reap the bounty of love lived with the rose coloured glasses firmly off.