The Reinvention of Love
With The Reinvention of Love, award-winning Canadian poet and novelist Helen Humphreys has deftly married the elaborate, factual lives of French writer Victor Hugo, his wife, Adele, and their friend (and Adele’s lover) Charles Sainte-Beuve with impressive fictional detail to produce a novel which is both panoptic yet intimate.
In late 19th-century Paris, Hugo is enjoying tremendous success with his poetry and his fledgling novel writing, helped in no small part by Sainte-Beuve’s literary reviews. A genius can only exercise his talents, however, if the tedium of everyday life is absorbed by someone else, in this case Hugo’s wife, Adele. And the consequence of this staid, uneventful life, Hugo soon discovers, is the need for Adele to find excitement elsewhere. Suffering from hypospadias, a condition closely linked to hermaphroditism, Sainte-Beuve is incapable of ‘normal’ sexual relations and must provide Adele with the excitement she seeks in more unconventional, though nonetheless satisfying, ways. In order to avoid feeding an ego as colossal as Hugo’s, Humphreys has cleverly written a novel which is not primarily about him but, as with most things in his world, revolves around him. Written in the voices of Adele, Sainte-Beuve, and Hugo’s youngest daughter, Dede, Humphreys’ language is witty and poignant and with enough complexity to fully investigate the intricacies of the human heart. Not a conventional love story but any means, but all the more compelling for that reason.
320 (CAN), 272 (UK)