Genre: Contemporary / Romance
Content warnings: infidelity, depictions of mental health and ill-health, references to death and assault
Perfect for when you’re in the mood for: ignoring life’s responsibilities until you realise maybe you’re not living your best life
After months of being holed up in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, re-reading stories I’d picked up during high school (and don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy both and am never against a trip down memory lane), Love and Other Puzzles by Kimberley Allsopp was the perfect book to propel me back into reading. I’ve always been a fan of books that explore the everyday, the mundane, and this is no different.
However, writing in the first person, I think, tends to lend itself to a lot of thinking and streams of consciousness. So, initially, I found it difficult to get started on the book. I felt that Rory, our main character, thought too much and did too little. Her mind frequently veered off-course and explored backstories and side-plots that bore no real significance in the story. At least, not until later. I’d get slightly confused about where we were in the story, but it wasn’t until about 80 pages in that the story began to pick up. I realised my criticisms about Rory very much reflected criticisms about myself, so I sat back and just gave myself the chance to read.
The novel centres around Rory, who struggles to find any enjoyment or fulfilment in her ‘rigid’ and ‘regimented’ routines. One day, in an attempt to change all this, she starts letting the clues of The New York Times crossword puzzle dictate her decisions for one week.
I know that I like to plan, that checking items off lists fills me with joy and a sense of achievement . . . But having everything in order and diarised isn’t working for me anymore; I’m no closer to reaching any of my five-year goals than when I first laminated them.
It is a novel filled with rom-com references, most of which I do not understand. I recognised the names of moves and some references to different actors, though the actual meaning behind those was lost on me. It’s interesting to me how some elements of those rom-coms weaved themselves into the storytelling. It shows up in Rory’s dry humour, the way she holds a conversation or gets herself out of one. It’s in the way our protagonist talks about her mother and the way she idolises her grandfather. I’d almost go as far as to suggest that Love and Other Puzzles is a comedy itself. The narrative is humorous in an endearing way; you find yourself laughing at the hysterics of Rory’s situation until we finally get to the crux of the story. When Rory makes that One Big Mistake that almost puts her career and herself on the line, we see that her life is falling apart and perhaps the narrative is neither of these things. It’s almost a bit of a tragedy.
It’s not dramatic and it’s not terrible but it is real. Rory is coping with the death of a loved one, wrapping it up and pretending like everything’s okay, but it’s not. She gets to a point where she makes irrational decisions that jeopardise her work and her relationships. Despite that, the messes she makes feel like a version of what would be the harsh truth most of us have to accept as we venture through our early adulthood. Maybe I’m a cynic, a pessimist if you will, but we will mess up our friendships, relationships might fall apart and we will have to leave jobs and find new ones. It’s completely realistic and it doesn’t try to hide the truth, nor does the novel try to romanticise it. That’s what I love about it.
He’d cheated on me and I still want him to love me. I need a shift in perspective. I need the crossword. I need a shower.
The lovely thing about this book is how real and true-to-life it is. Rory is a mess, but by the end of the book, things aren’t unsalvageable as there is hope in simplicity and hope in mundanity. Rory still has her humour, she still has her support network and she finally figures out what’s important to her and what the next step might be (and it isn’t being dictated by a crossword puzzle clue). As the reader, we harbour some hope that Rory will figure herself out the same way I imagine a lot of us hope we’ll figure ourselves out.
However, despite these things, Love and Other Puzzles isn’t groundbreaking. The writing is still incredibly wordy in some places, and there are times when I get confused about what’s going on with the plot. It’s not perfect but it does its job well. I rate it 3 stars.