Jon is a public servant in Westminster who hates his job. He’s just left his wife – who was having an affair – and struggles to be a decent father to his daughter. In his spare time he writes love letters (for a small fee) to single women looking for companionship, even if it’s in prose rather than in person.
Meg is an alcoholic and bankrupt accountant. Putting the pieces of her life together she works part-time in an animal shelter looking to find good homes for lost animals. As she struggles with her sobriety and the occasional suicidal thought Meg stumbles across a letter writing service for single women…
A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet is not an easy book to read. In fact if a novel ever deserved a trigger warning stuck on the front cover, this would be the one. There are plenty of books about people struggling with mental health issues, people who are damaged and lonely and struggling to exist day-to-day. But I vouch that none of them present their characters in such intricate, intense detail. While the novel isn’t written in first person we are exposed to Jon and Meg’s every single thought. If you thought Stephen King overdid italics in the 1980s, wait till you flip through Serious Sweet. There are times when it’s easy to believe that the Kennedy has written the entire novel in slanted text. It is an unrelenting barrage of insecurity and fear and an inability to find solace. But then for those who suffer from depression, from anxiety, there’s rarely a quiet moment.
Hilariously, Serious Sweet is, at its fractured heart, a love story. It’s the most awkward, cringe-worthy, uncomfortable love story I’ve ever read. It’s never clear – not even after you’ve finished the book – whether Meg and Jon will find some peace together. But they certainly love each other, and I suppose that’s something.
I am caught betwixt and between with this book. I’m not sure if it’s a staggering piece of genius or if it’s overlong, pretentious and indulgent. While I never considered not finishing the book, there were certainly times when I dreaded reading another passage about Jon’s hatred for his colleagues or Meg’s struggle with alcoholism, or their joint overwhelming sense of loneliness. But I did finish it, and a bit like Hanya Yanagihara’s The Little Life, this is a book that will stay with me, even if I can’t say I liked it. I’m not going to forget Meg and Jon in a hurry.