Reviewed by Raili Simojoki
If you’ve read any of Craig Sherborne’s writing, you’ll know not to expect a rosy-eyed view of the world. The Amateur Science of Love follows the grim journey of a love affair gone wrong.
Colin leaves the unglamorous environs of his parents’ farm to pursue an acting career in London, seeking recognition in the eyes of others and satiation of his own ego. In London, Colin meets Tilda, a young artist whose hint of tragedy and complexity only makes her more attractive. In the fiery early stages of their affair, love and lust are almost inseparable; an all-consuming, visceral illness. Even love, Colin realises, is a small-scale form of fame and power.
Consumed by this desire, so heady and self-affirming as to be a kind of vanity, the two lovers set up a life together, moving to country Victoria. Beset by a series of mundane events, and strained by the stifling banality of a deadbeat country town, the lovers’ hastily rendered relationship sours into something deeply unpleasant.
As the affair deteriorates, Colin’s unkind thoughts grow like a cancer, rotting his integrity. He abjectly neglects moral responsibilities (there’s one particularly horrifying example), and treats Tilda like inconvenient baggage. He determines women’s worth based on callous assessments of their physical appearance. Colin’s dark ruminations, laid bare by Sherborne, are both confronting and utterly familiar.
Yet Colin’s not entirely devoid of moral conscience – he periodically segues into a retrospective voice, regretfully ruminating on his ‘lopsided record’ and expressing a desire to ‘square his soul.’ There are even times when he genuinely cares for and looks after Tilda, although we’re still left guessing whether it’s more about his ego.
Tilda, physically vulnerable and sensing Colin’s fading interest in her, is naturally insecure, making her fits of jealous pique, manipulative behaviour and vindictiveness understandable. But it’s difficult to pity her, as we’re never given a sense of her inner self. And this is possibly the author’s intent; the cardboard cut-out version of Tilda is a realistic perception of her through the eyes of self-obsessed Colin.
Sherborne’s humour is acerbic, his prose fluid and sparing. He tells cruel human truths in poetry, often with caustic, biting humour – ‘just a thought-sip of suicide, nothing more’ (a failed interview), and ‘it was like he was from hospital and she was from Spain’ (lusting after the glamorous wife of a cancer patient). The tale moves at a cracking pace, and Colin’s recollections are used to foreshadow his inevitable comeuppance, creating a sense of foreboding which culminates in the uneasy ending.
Colin and Tilda experience the common epiphany experienced by young people with aspirations; that in reality, life can be mundane and unrewarding, that it’s not necessarily a carnival designed for your own enjoyment, or an indomitable escalator of achievement. Colin is left feeling hollow, and wondering whether other people, like him, are living what they feel is a second-class life. Yet there’s still a sense of possibility; the future is pulling him to an unknown destination.
Sherborne doesn’t let much of what’s human slip through his net, especially if it’s unsavoury. The Amateur Science of Love is a brutally honest exploration of what can go wrong when naïveté, vanity, and unrealistic aspirations meet with the curse of misfortune. It’s packed with psychological juice.
Raili Simojoki’s articles and reviews appear in The Big Issue, Crikey and The Drum, and she blogs at www.railisimojoki.wordpress.com. She is currently working on a writing project with older people through Banyule City Council.