Keiran Goddard’s exquisite debut novel offers a love story for our times in fewer than 200 powerful pages. In three parts, the narrator writes to a great love, recounting the beginnings of their relationship and the pragmatic reality of sustaining romance in the modern world, the ultimate disentangling of two hearts, and what happens in the wake of their separation: “the second time you came, we went from bar to bar to bar. It made the city feel smaller. Like a map we were folding to the size of a stamp. We were good at that. We could have fit an entire universe inside a matchbox.”
The voice of the narrator is unique – here is a man who articulates his experience of the world with imaginative flair and a dark wit. He skates close to the danger zone of sentimentality before, each time, subverting the romance with stark reality: “There were no stars when we left the bar. The sky looked like the inside of a cheap tent.”
Goddard has previously published two volumes of critically acclaimed poetry and it is the poet’s eye for observation, and precise prose, that elevates this stream of consciousness to something very particular, intimate and purposeful.
It is remarkable to read a love story so universal that still articulates something illuminating about love itself. Goddard has found new ways to express the achingly familiar without ever recycling cliched representations. The narrative is also infused with reflections on the working world, class, faith, and the wreckage that comes with a soul suffocated by the underbelly of a city.
It is a meditation on time, the infinite possibilities within each moment for reflection and reinvention, and how every beginning is an end, and end a beginning.
With praise from a diverse cast of readers – from the authors Lemn Sissay and Max Porter to the actor Lena Dunham and Brett Anderson from Suede – Goddard has hit a nerve with this devastatingly funny, intimate portrait of a modern man in a contemporary love story. If ever a book could be read as a pilgrimage to discover what the heart finds sacred, this is it.