If Not Love
As she stood on the landing, Kate heard one of the children murmur in their sleep, and felt, as she always did when she was the only one awake, somehow the custodian of all their well-being. Awake while they slept, it was as if she could string their breaths like beads on a wire, gather them in her hands and keep them all safe. Often, at night, she strained her ears in the dark for the approach of any harm; got up from her bed, pulled their covers into place, picked up a teddy from the floor, closed a window when a storm rumbled across the hills. And always the sense, in the silence of the night, that she ought to be on guard; on guard against what she could not really say; just somehow wary of what the next day might unleash, about how life might suddenly splinter across her children’s chests. And Kate understood, suddenly, clearly, as she dimmed the landing light, that the question that should preoccupy her was not what it was that she had but, rather, what she hadn’t.
She thought of Harry kissing her years ago on a beach in Morocco and the feeling that while her heart swooped and danced and all her senses rang, something quietly, calmly, deep in her bones, told her she would always love him. Now, as she picked up a towel from the landing carpet, she saw that she had expected it always to be the same for him, and that the prospect of losing him was beyond consolation.
Kate reached out and took it, and felt his fingers clasp hers and thought, as she lay there, how easily satisfied and comforted we can be. How a small gesture can be construed as some kind of symbol, some kind of allegiance, some affirmation of a long-ago loyalty. A manifestation of a shared endeavour, sustained through years.
Ambushed by tiredness and beginning to spin down into sleep, Kate knew that even the smallest thing can be construed as a symbol of hope; lying there, holding her husband’s hand in the dark, listening to him breathe and wondering how many breaths they had shared together in sleep.
A baby given up. A faithless husband. A marriage unconsummated. A defining love affair which begins in a churchyard on a bright afternoon in Spring. A woman who seeks distraction through an evening class on Roman civilisation. A roll of paintings tied neatly for years and returned one day to the woman who is depicted in them.
If Not Love is tells the story of six women connected through secrets and shared history. A novel with kindness at its heart, it explores the ties that bind, and the realities of relationships long after ‘Reader, I married him.’
Langdale’s accomplished debut takes marriage, motherhood, loyalty and duty and considers them in a fresh light.Oxford Times