The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty (2011)

Australian author Liane Moriarty is famous for her wild, saucy, melodramas that more often than not feature unexpected plot twists, dark secrets uncovered, and surprise (but mostly happy) endings. In short, all her books are great fun to read. This novel was another wonderful book but with a slightly less wild story arc.

The story’s main character, Ellen, has just begun a promising relationship with a widower and father named Patrick. She is full of romantic ideas about love and relationships and desperately hopes that Patrick is “the one” so that she can finally begin to build a family of her own. However, she soon comes to realize that relationships between two adults with full, messy lives are much more complicated than she had fantasized. “She felt panicky whenever she experienced even a moment’s irritation with Patrick. She had to remain vigilant; any cracks in the relationship had to be patched up immediately. That was absolutely vital.”

Ellen and Patrick are not the only ones in their relationship: they must share each other with Patrick’s young son, her family and his, the ever-present memory of his dead wife (and her family), and — shockingly — Patrick’s stalker. Yes, his stalker. Patrick had entered into a relationship too soon after his wife’s death and it had not ended well, causing his ex, Saskia, to go crazy. For more than three years she has been tormenting Patrick and, upon learning about Ellen, begins to stalk her as well. Saskia becomes the novel’s second narrator, giving readers very chilling insight into her unstable mind and just how deep her obsessions run.

As the book progresses, Ellen must really grapple with how different her life is turning out to be from her daydreams and we get wonderful (and at times very funny) access to her musings — about love, marriage, motherhood, work and more. As her life grows messier and messier, Ellen begins to blur the line between her work as a hypnotist and her role as a girlfriend: soon she begins to make “gentle suggestions” to Patrick to improve his flaws and find out what he is really thinking. She so badly wants this relationship to work that she is willing to bend her our ethics code to look inside Patrick’s mind, often, with results that leave her less than satisfied.

The novel does a fantastic job presenting readers with the reality — and at times hilarity — of modern love for people over thirty-five. Even when we see the story through Saskia the Stalker’s eyes, we see just how hard it can to find and lose love and how desperate one can become when striving to hold onto it, even when letting go seems like the obvious choice.

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