Really good literary fiction is a difficult trick to pull off. If it’s not right on the nail, it can come across as pretentious, woolly or self-indulgent but Yorkshire-born author Claire King has succeeded magnificently with her second novel Everything Love Is.
It is a beautifully judged, intricately structured contemplation on memory, love, happiness and loss. An existential exploration of what it means to be human and how to live a contented life, it is, above all, an achingly poignant love story.
“It didn’t start off being about love, but I’d describe it as a grown-up love story,” says King. “I’m not a big fan of happily ever after fairytale love stories – I was interested in happiness and what that actually means for people in real life. Being happy isn’t about just one thing, it is much more complicated than that. So the book really started off as a philosophical quest.”
The protagonist is Baptiste Molino, a gentle, middle-aged therapist living a simple life on a houseboat moored on a canal just outside Toulouse. Aside from his clients, his immediate towpath neighbours and his friends in the local café-bar, Baptiste lives a solitary yet contented life. He has never really known a grand passion but then along comes a new client, elegant, enigmatic doctor Amandine Rousseau. “It took me a long time to write,” says King. “It started off with Baptiste and how he was very interested in other people’s happiness but did not pay so much attention to his own. He isn’t unhappy but other people keep telling him he could be happier and that maybe he should search for happiness. I find when I’m writing that as the characters grow, the story starts to tell you what it needs to become.
“In looking at Baptiste and why he wasn’t interested in striving for something more than he already has, I understood how the plot had to play out. Also his past came strongly into it.” It transpires the mystery surrounding his birth has a terrible bearing on his future.
King, who grew up in Doncaster, graduated from Cambridge University with a degree in Economics and worked in business for 20 years before moving to France with her husband and taking up writing.
Her debut novel The Night Rainbow was published in 2013. A similarly intelligent, sensitive and carefully plotted work, also set in France, it explored adult grief as seen through the eyes of a child and received much well-deserved critical acclaim.
After living near Perpignan for 14 years – during which time her two daughters were born – King and her family recently moved back to the UK and are now based in Gloucestershire. She is currently working on her next novel which is set in Yorkshire and examines love and social class.
“I am glad I’m back in England to write it,” she says. “Because it’s set where I grew up, it is extraordinarily personal and I feel like I am mining a lot of old memories and feelings I have about Yorkshire – it’s really emotional writing this one.”
Everything Love Is by Claire King, published by Bloomsbury, £16.99.