Review: Writers & Lovers, Lily King

It has been a while since I’ve devoured a book so quickly, racing through the pages and scheduling time into my day to sit down and get lost in the 90s romcom literary escapade that is Lily King’s marvellous Writers & Lovers.

There is so much that I loved about Writers & Lovers.

The long descriptions of unfulfilled writer protagonist, Casey, working as a waitress in a fancy clubhouse restaurant.

It is so clear that King herself must have worked as a waitress and as a former waitress myself, I completely appreciated the intense pressured environment that these places are. Coupled with Casey’s deteoriating mental health and the increasing external problems in her life, it creates a perfect pressure pot that just felt so real – and so perfectly drawn. Aggressive chefs, annoying customers you have to serve with a smile on your face, colleagues you hide in corners to bitch with… I have been there, and I’ve also experienced the way this kind of job can take over your whole life.

Dry observations about men and writers and writing in general.

God, this book made me laugh aloud. King is so expert in her observations on dating men who are writers, and having friends who are writers. She paints the microagressions so well, the snide remarks and the entitlement of middle-aged male writers who think that they are automatically destined for greatness. But more than that, King paints the realities of being a woman in such a hilarious and nuanced way, I saw myself staring back from Casey’s narrative with wide eyes, especially in passages like the below.

“I… think about how you get trained early on as a woman to perceive how others are perceiving you, at the great expense of what you yourself are feeling about them. Sometimes you mix the two up in a terrible tangle that’s hard to unravel.”

But ahh, the writing about writing!

My favourite thing about this whole book, however, is how Casey talks about her writing. Reading this novel, I didn’t know which one I wanted to do more: keep reading to finish the book, or fling it down to pick up my own writing. Casey and King just get the agony and ecstasy of writing so perfectly. And you could say ‘of course King does, she’s a writer!’ but I have honestly not read a truer and more compelling account of being a writer – the ups and downs, heartache and triumph. I found myself groaning aloud at certain paragraphs, nodding my head in agreement and feeling that familiar buzz that comes with being a writer equally delighted and disgusted by your own work.

“The hardest thing about writing is getting in every day, breaking through the membrane. the second-hardest is getting out. Sometimes I sink down too deep and come up too fast. Afterward I feel wide open and skinless. The whole world feels moist and pliable.”

I have to say that my biggest disappointment with Writers & Lovers was the ending that I just found a little bit too abrupt. I was so engaged with Casey’s world – her problems, her writing career, the love triangle – that as I neared the end and counted the pages left, I couldn’t believe how it would all be wrapped up so quickly and credibly. Maybe it’s because I loved the world so much, but I really wanted more of all the things that had been bubbling and boiling away in the background – the man she breaks up with, the new relationship she embarks on, her own recovery from a very dark place. It was all a little too neat, which made me finish Casey’s journey with not all the sweetness I had hoped for.

To me, this book is absolutely crying out for a film or TV series and, lo and behold, I see on Twitter that Toni Collette is set to direct a movie adaption and I am not surprised at all. I’m excited to see where this book will go, and hope that maybe my issues with the ending can be resolved.

Don’t be fooled by the romantic comedy aspect of Writers & Lovers, this book is clever and funny, real and tragic. It really does what it says on the tin – it makes you fall in love with writers and with writing. And I think that makes it a rare gem.

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