Ten Things I've Learnt About Love
By Sarah Butler
(Penguin Press HC, The, Hardcover, 9781594205330, 320pp.)
Publication Date: July 11, 2013
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About to turn thirty, Alice is the youngest of three daughters, and the black sheep of her family. Drawn to traveling in far-flung and often dangerous countries, she has never enjoyed the closeness with her father that her two older sisters have and has eschewed their more conventional career paths. She has left behind a failed relationship in London with the man she thought she might marry and is late to hear the news that her father is dying. She returns to the family home only just in time to say good-bye.
Daniel is called many things—"tramp", "bum", "lost." He hasn't had a roof over his head for almost thirty years, but he once had a steady job and a passionate love affair with a woman he’s never forgotten. To him, the city of London has come to be like home in a way that no bricks and mortar dwelling ever was. He makes sculptures out of the objects he finds on his walks throughout the city—bits of string and scraps of paper, a child’s hair tie, and a lost earring—and experiences synesthesia, a neurological condition which causes him to see words and individual letters of the alphabet as colors. But as he approaches his sixties his health is faltering, and he is kept alive by the knowledge of one thing—that he has a daughter somewhere in the world whom he has never been able to find.
A searching and inventive debut, Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love is a story about finding love in unexpected places, about rootlessness and homecoming, and the power of the ties that bind. It announces Sarah Butler as a major new talent for telling stories that are heart-wrenching, page-turning, and unforgettable.
Sarah Butler is in her early thirties and lives in London. She runs Urban Words, a consultancy which develops literature and arts projects that explore and question our relationship to place. Ten Things I've Learnt About Love is her first novel and will be published in twelve languages around the world.
The New York Times:
“Butler’s lists have a surprising emotional resonance. They represent her two narrators’ anguished and perhaps futile efforts to organize the sad and turbulent parts of life in an intrinsically chaotic city called London, circa right about now. And they are only the surface layer of a carefully structured story that invites and even requires puzzle-solving. This is a novel deeply committed to unfinishedness—the characters speak in sentences that trail off, plot points are left to be guessed at or pieced together. As a literary technique, the elliptical style is enormously effective, keeping the narrative in a constant, trembling state of tension, which gives the lists a grounding effect. This and the charming, gritty and appropriately damp view of London nearly devoid of any Cool Britiannia elements make for a novel that often evokes strong feeling. …There are a few things in this book that frustrate, but there are many more than 10 to love.”
"[An] elegant and tender debut novel...[Ten Things I've Learnt About Love] is no conventional love story, but a sensitive look at the meaning of family."
Kirkus Reviews (starred):
"[A] soulful debut . . . Spare language and an atmosphere of foreboding will keep readers on tenterhooks."
"Butler's elegant prose makes this a moving debut."
"Butler's graceful debut explores life's heartbreaks, unexpected family bonds, and the search for home. . . . [The] narrative's controlled suspense and unanswered questions make for a satisfying tale."
“Butler’s poignant first novel has a distinct sense of place and sympathetic characters who have much in common.”
Carla Jean Whitley, Bookpage:
“TEN THINGS I’VE LEARNT ABOUT LOVE explores the intricacies of familial relationships and what an individual is willing to sacrifice to preserve the relationships and the people in his or her life. Combining detailed storytelling with character-revealing lists of 10 things her protagonists have learned to treasure, Butler establishes herself as a talent to watch.”
Vanessa Diffenbaugh, New York Times bestselling author of The Language of Flowers:
"Heartbreaking and hopeful, Ten Things I've Learnt About Love crisscrosses London in a layered search for fathers and daughters, family and home. For anyone who has ever wondered where they belong, or to whom they belong—the answer can be found within Sarah Butler's tender debut novel."
Hillary Jordan, bestselling author of Mudbound and When She Woke:
"If this weren't billed as a debut novel, one would never know it. Sarah Butler writes with the deftness and delicacy of a master storyteller, giving us a compassionate, achingly beautiful rendering of a father and daughter."
Lisa Gee, The Independent:
“Graceful and subtle… love, in all its shape-shifting complexity, is at the core of this novel; that and the consequences – good and bad – of keeping secrets… The shifting and intricate dynamics of family life, and the vertiginously painful feelings of loss induced by relationship breakdown and bereavement, are written with imaginative precision. This is a thought- as well as emotion-provoking novel… It also sparkles with hope.”
John Harding, The Daily Mail:
“Increasingly suspenseful… a moving and satisfying debut”
Marie Claire (UK):
“This poignant novel about fathers and daughters, homecoming and restlessness, is also a love letter to London… Butler has viewed the city in all its weathers and moods, and this shines through on every page. Equally elegant are her observations of the emotional turmoil of her main characters as they pace the capital’s highways and byways, united by a secret… A moving, life-affirming debut.”