Title: Poets, Artists, Lovers
Author: Mira Tudor
Genre: Adult contemporary
CW: Fatphobia, cheating, lying, betrayal
Synopsis on Goodreads:
“PAL is a fast-paced yet poignant character-driven novel riding waves of romanticism, drama, and wit in a manner reminiscent of David Nicholls’s books (One Day)—and set in the exciting world of several vibrant Romanian artists and musicians.
Henriette, an accomplished sculptor, seems to find more joy in her feminist-inspired work and her piano playing than in the people who care about her. Ela, a piano teacher turned book reviewer, hopes to discover the key to happiness and a more meaningful life through studying the workings of the mind and crafting poems about emotions she trusts will lead her to a better place. Joining them in beauty and blindness is Pamfil, a violinist who dabbles as a singer and lives mostly for the moment and his monthly parties. As they follow their passions, they find themselves on treacherous journeys to love and happiness, and are slow to figure out how to best tackle their predicaments. Fortunately, their lovers and friends are there to help . . . but then a newcomer complicates things.”
My Thoughts (Minor Spoilers):
I received money to purchase the book via Amazon from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Poets, Artists, Lovers follows the interconnecting lives of a group of friends and presents a snapshot of their messy relationships with one another, with their glamorous parties and their philosophical conversations.
Unfortunately I had a few issues with PAL but I’ll start with what I thought was handled well.
The story takes place in a colourfully-described Bucharest and the way the author illustrated the setting really brought it to life. The descriptions of food made my mouth water throughout. There was a relatively large cast of characters and I liked how they were all tied together in one way or another. I largely enjoyed the first 30% of PAL, despite its issues, but from there on I found myself a little disappointed with the story.
I found that PAL read more as a series of conversations than a cohesive story. It had a strong beginning but seemed to lose its way in the middle and, when it came to the end, I was quite shocked to turn the last page and realise it was finished. I kept wondering throughout what the purpose of some of the discussions were between the characters. Some seemed entirely irrelevant to both the plot and the development of characters. For example, there was an entire paragraph on the process of how to make coffee. Also, there were a few unnecessary details thrown in, too, such as how tall a mountain range in exact metres (with a conversion of feet) was. There were a few instances where the author would tell and not show. I think this was largely due to how fast-paced the plot was. The story moved on so quickly that we barely had a chance to understand how the characters were feeling.
Some of the characters were fleshed out with interesting internal plots driving them. They were heavily flawed and very unlikable. Personally, I’m not particularly fond of characters that lie and cheat and betray their other halves but that might be something you don’t mind reading about.
There were other characters, however, that seemed a little one-dimensional. The partners of Henriette and Ela felt like they existed purely to please them. It didn’t seem like they had their own agency and, even after discovering the affair, Henriette’s partner didn’t seem to mind as there were no arguments between them which seemed pretty unrealistic.
Furthermore, there was one character in particular that I absolutely despised. Four of the female characters were infatuated with him so you would think he’d be portrayed as someone very charming and swoon-worthy. Instead, he just came off as incredibly creepy and a borderline sexual predator considering he went for two separate sixteen-year-old girls when he was around a decade older. Particularly when the girl in question clearly feels deeply uncomfortable with him:
“Pamfil turned to face Maria and hugged her tightly. Maria froze again, as she had a habit of doing in Pamfil’s overpowering presence.”
I think the following paragraph sums his disgusting thought processes up pretty well:
“[He] just looked at Ela, at her modestly covered cleavage and the incipient pouches under her eyes. He used to love her breasts. Pear-shaped, pert, with bold nipples, beautiful in the halter tops and surplice necklines she used to favor when she fell for him. Now she hid them under a padded bra, which did nothing except divert attention, for a very short while, from the weight on her stomach.”
Speaking of weight, I’m not sure what happened, but the second half of PAL was obsessed with diet and weight. There were so many occasions that clearly amounted to some pretty bad fatphobia. Here are just a few examples – obviously, CW:
“I wouldn’t laugh if I were you. I think you have the body mass index of an overweight person.”
“Reducing calories is a mistake. If you need 2,500 calories, and you reduce your intake to 2,000 calories, your body will first use your fat reserves, and then it will start to use only 2,000 because it learns that you give it only that much. So you will stop losing weight.”
This quote also relates back to what I was saying about the unnecessary details. I’m not sure how or why this speech was relevant to the plot.
“My mother says that young healthy women with strong willpower should make sure they’re slim, or else they send the message that they don’t have enough willpower, or that they’re not healthy.”
There were so many other examples interspersed throughout the narrative but what baffles me most is that there was no mention at all of weight in the first half and then it seemed as though there was a massive onslaught of attacks against fat people in the second half!
Moving onto the conversations shared between the characters, there were times when I had no idea what they were talking about. They shared a passion for music and made quite a few references that went over my head. If you’re not familiar with the topics they discuss, I can imagine you could feel a little out of the loop and, therefore, a little frustrated as there are no explanations to help guide you. At first I found these conversations interesting but I found them quite pretentious towards the end. And, again, I’m not entirely sure of the relevance of a lot of them to the overarching story.
The writing itself flowed very nicely. It was a very readable book with some beautiful descriptions at times, such as the following:
“[C]rystals of snow crunching under their feet like so many tiny jewels; the warp and weft of post-and-rail fences surrounding log cabins and haystacks; and the sunlight flaring through scattered fir trees, whipping the snow, making it look as if it were sprinkled with diamond dust.”
There was a little confusion, though, as the perspective would change without much of a warning and all of a sudden we would be in someone else’s head. It often felt quite jarring and pulled me out of the story.
Overall, Poets, Artists, Lovers had an interesting beginning but lacked a direction and purpose after the initial first few chapters. I don’t think I’ll be recommending this book as there are various issues that clearly need to be ironed out and the fatphobia made me feel deeply uncomfortable.