Sunday, June 16, 2013

Story Sunday - The Yearning

The YearningLots of spoilers in here - so if you haven’t read The Yearning by Kate Belle and don’t like a story ruined, please don’t read on.

It's been difficult for me to formulate my thoughts on this story because it touched me deeply. It brought back memories and had me identifying with the main character too many times. The fact that the main character is nameless until the last word, only made this identification stronger.

My teenage self had so many unrequited loves. Not with teachers but with footballers, jockeys and rock stars. I could relate to her pining infatuation, her inability to do anything but stare at the object of her desire, and her complete lack of confidence in being able to express herself with her friends, her secret diary being the recipient of her pain.

I could relate to the voyeuristic component and the need to understand sex (which was largely un-talked about). I could even relate to Eve thinking that sex and kissing meant you were now boyfriend and girlfriend (cf Solomon and Tracey as well as herself and Solomon).

Even the pain of your soul mate being torn from you and waiting for their return is familiar. As well as the decision not to wait. Even discovering he was never really your soul mate, but rather your first love.So many thoughts and emotions that I could identify with, are contained in this book - and I’m sure many other women are the same.

I thought there were many, many themes in the story. Here are some I've teased out:

None of the men in The Yearning are heroic characters - the father is rude, belittling, and does nothing to deserve Eve's love or the mother’s. Max is selfish, and tragically like his own father who was an abusive drunk. Solomon is a victim of child sexual assault, has never experienced love and equates sex and intimacy as the same.

None of the women have any backbone - Jude loved someone like Solomon in her youth and ended up unhappy, in a loveless marriage and she not only watches her daughter do the same, she actively encourages it. The school friends are no true friends. Tracey is a manipulative bully.

There are no role models for Eve. She has no one to learn from. Solomon is the only person who seems to care for her, take the time to teach her, and pay attention to her. He earns her love and devotion only because no one else bothers. In her final letter she says, “You found me among the dull humdrum of my life and connected me to my potential, to my Self. You gave me hope and, for a brief moment, I actually believed in myself.” On the one hand this is a beautiful sentiment; on the other it's incredibly sad. That's how I found this book - both beautiful and sad.

Cycles are a large part of the story - Eve and her Mum, Solomon's lost innocence and Eve’s, Max and his dad, even Max and her father reflect each other.

The different ways men and women think about life, love, sex, family is touched on - particularly with her mother reflecting on her marriage choice, and with Max’s views on marriage and children.

There’s an ostrich mentality in many of the characters, especially the men.  They ignore everything until there needs to be a confrontation - which is then violent/excessive. Maybe this is a sign of the times too, the 1970s were a little like that I think (but I was probably too young to really know).

The book has a voyeuristic beginning and theme throughout the book, even with the way it was written. It’s very cleverly done. And when sex is not discussed openly, voyeurism is often the only option you have with which to learn.

Other themes include: Pain of love; Pain of loss; Pain of settling for second best; Pain of relationships; Pain of being alone or having multiple partners; Hardship of life and love; Alien nature of men and women, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, teachers and students; Snow White and fairy tale love.

A strong theme is that sometimes, whatever choice you make in life you make, you end up unhappy. You can’t rely on others for your happiness. You can’t rely on life for happiness. You have to find it within. 

One of my favourite pieces from The Yearning is: Solomon saying to Eve, “But just because I love you doesn’t mean we’d survive being together for keeps. How long do you think it would be before we were stuck in the same miseries as everyone else? No matter where relationships start, they all end up drowning in routine, in life. What we have is too beautiful to destroy with commitment.”

There’s also a powerful biblical connection with the Song of Solomon (also called Song of Songs) quoted at the beginning of most chapters, and with the main character names. The Song of Solomon is a love poem in the Old Testament between a bride and her bridegroom, who is named as king and as Solomon. The king reference suits our character Solomon, because to Eve, he is her king (and in a way her bridegroom, being the first man she loved). And Eve’s name is perfect for her character because although she is not the first woman Solomon has had, she’s the first woman to awaken something strong and abiding, akin to love, in him.

At the end, when the main character has finally grown up, matured and understood about love, she could use her name, Eve. I felt she had the strength to get what she wanted - and being a cynic, I'm not sure it's Max!

Solomon ends with nothing... Eve thinks she's salvaged something but I wonder if she has.

The end was satisfying however it leaves me a little perturbed (with the message about promiscuity/marriage).

Promiscuity came out as the "bad" choice...which is kind of parallel to Fifty Shades of Grey where domination was the "bad" choice. Both books are pro-marriage themed...even with poor marriages. Are books reinforcing society norms? Or am I off on a different tangent (which I often am, just ask my book group!)? I thought about promiscuity last week, and when I thought about it, most people I know don’t stay “playing the field” but end up with someone. Maybe it’s a growing up theme and I should just overlook it.

But no matter about this tiny point, The Yearning is a fabulous story that's captured my mind and had me seriously thinking for over a week now. That's more than most books manage. Kate Belle is a seriously talented writer.


  1. I have heard a lot about this story, Cate. I haven't read it, and I will rectify that one day soon. Thanks for the post.

    Lily M

    1. You're a trooper, Lily, following me around and commenting. Thanks heaps!

      I hope you'll enjoy this when you read it.

      Love Cate xo

  2. This book is beautifully written and explores things that many of us can identify with. But... it's not a criticism of the book, but a reflection on my own position, I can't be okay with the existence of the relationship in the first place. That she yearns after him, is completely understandable. That he is tempted, equally so. But for him to exploit that yearning is, for me, exactly that - an exploitation. It's an abuse of his position as a teacher and coming from a long line of teachers (in a manner of speaking) I can't get past it! I'm glad you've done this excellent exploration, Cate, because I feel as though I should talk about the book, because it's good, but I'm so torn by this fundamental problem! (In case you were wondering at the silence, Kate with a K, now you know. Haven't known how to say it.)

    1. Hi Imelda,
      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      For me, erotic writing is all about exploring the hidden or the taboo or the things you wouldn't do or wouldn't talk about. So the relationship didn't bother me because it was explored in all its depths - from his side and hers.

      I think some thing changed in my head when I decided to write erotica. I stopped thinking about morals in a story. I let the story explore the issue rather than judge it. Although I do have panics about it every now and again but generally that's what I try to do.

      Thanks for your views, Imelda. I'm sure you won't be alone in having that issue with the story. And maybe that's a point I shoudl add to my list - exploitation.

      Cate xo