REVIEW: Love Your Life by Sophie Kinsella
Call Ava romantic, but she thinks love should be found in the real world, not on apps that filter men by height, job, or astrological sign. She believes in feelings, not algorithms. So after a recent breakup and dating app debacle, she decides to put love on hold and escapes to a remote writers’ retreat in coastal Italy. She’s determined to finish writing the novel she’s been fantasizing about, even though it means leaving her close-knit group of friends and her precious dog, Harold, behind.
At the retreat, she’s not allowed to use her real name or reveal any personal information. When the neighboring martial arts retreat is canceled and a few of its attendees join their small writing community, Ava, now going by “Aria,” meets “Dutch,” a man who seems too good to be true. The two embark on a baggage-free, whirlwind love affair, cliff-jumping into gem-colored Mediterranean waters and exploring the splendor of the Italian coast. Things seem to be perfect for Aria and Dutch.
But then their real identities—Ava and Matt—must return to London. As their fantasy starts to fade, they discover just how different their personal worlds are. From food choices to annoying habits to sauna etiquette . . . are they compatible in anything? And then there’s the prickly situation with Matt’s ex-girlfriend, who isn’t too eager to let him go. As one mishap follows another, it seems while they love each other, they just can’t love each other’s lives. Can they reconcile their differences to find one life together?
CW: accident involving a pet (non-fatal)
Dear Ms. Kinsella,
If anyone is looking for an example of how good communication is key to a relationship and bad communication can almost ruin it – this is it. As I read the book, I couldn’t help but feel that if Ava and Matt had only talked earlier before their differences piled on top of differences and became almost insurmountable, things would have been a lot easier for their relationship. But then watching them in action is the reason for the book. It’s too bad that I got more and more annoyed with both of them as the book progressed. I think readers will either like or dislike the book based on whether they feel Ava is endearing and fun or maddening and annoying.
Matt and Ava meet quite by chance at a writer’s retreat where the rule is no personal information to be exchanged in order for everyone to focus on their creative process. They manage to fall into insta-love with Ava constructing (and relating to her friends via WhatsApp) her idea of who this man (whose real name she doesn’t even know) is. Ava was way off the mark.
Back in London, they are in love but almost frighteningly unaware of who the other person really is. With ♥ in their eyes and love in their hearts, can their feelings survive discovering the reality of day to day life together?
The “opposites attract” trope is full on here. Ava is exuberant, free spirited, and spinning into eighteen directions at the same time. Her beloved dog Harold (who has never had an obedience lesson in his life but who desperately needs them) fits her personality. Matt on the other hand is quiet, controlled, logical, and at many points of the book totally bewildered by her. He sticks it out and rolls with the punches.
I would have loved to have spent some time in Matt’s calm POV because to me Ava, while having good intentions, is exhausting. Ava is judgmental. Ava is demanding. Ava is delusional. Ava is preachy. Sometimes Ava’s “I’m so quirky and optimistic” vibe got on my last nerve. Ava’s a bottle rocket with a perpetually lit fuse just waiting for Matt to disappoint her so she can get frustrated with him then hiss at him in undertones while pretending everything’s hunky dory. In her head, Ava invents how she thinks things are and then acts surprised and miffed when she realizes that this isn’t reality. She seems to think all she has to do is announce to Matt how he should change his life and he will.
Ava is also the bane of the existence of other dog owners who manage to keep their beloved furry pets from totally destroying some one’s home and belongings or starting things with other dogs in public. Ava seems to feel that Harold is expressing himself and being free spirited but I think he’s a menace and I’m a dog lover. One of her friends also has unsupervised children I would flee from if I saw them coming. Matt can be pill, too, as he usually doesn’t say much and has the backbone of a wet noodle.
Yet Ava is also a supporting friend who will drop everything at a moment’s notice and help. She and her (often rude, weird) friends put up with each other’s foibles and issues and back each other (sometimes loudly, bolshy-ly, in your face-ly in ways that made me cringe) as best friends do. She also sees that Matt is miserable and cares enough to eventually track down and nail what is behind his family and job issues because getting the information from Matt is like pulling teeth. When Ava and Matt finally erupt about all the things the other does that infuriate them, I can’t help but feel they’re both right – because they are. How will things be solved? I didn’t know because up to this point, they really haven’t communicated at all.
Honestly this part is problematic for me as we get the dreaded “Seven months later” followed by “Six months later” chapter headings. Then Ava tells us in retrospect what has happened during those months. It’s the ultimate “tell don’t show.” It’s like a long epilogue followed by another long epilogue. Ava and Matt finally do talk (and it was about time!) and actually seem to listen (though how long this will last is any one’s guess). There are “I’m sorrys” but then with a sprinkling of fairy glitter, most of the rest of their problems are magically explained away. Voila, HEA. I felt a bit shortchanged. No, I felt a lot shortchanged.
I also want to talk about one of Ava’s friends whose health issues appear to be included in the book to mainly serve as a way to end scenes. Several times Ava and Matt are in an intense moment only to have Ava’s phone ring with the news that she must rush to this friend’s side because of this friend’s flare-up. That isn’t all this friend is to the story but using her health crises this way felt cheap. D