Review Blog

Jul 23 2020

If I can't have you by Charlotte Levin

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Macmillan, 2020. ISBN: 9781529032383.
(Age: Adult) Charlotte Levin plunges us into the horror of a young woman, Constance, riding on a London tram, wearing what appears to be a blood-stained white dress. When a tooth drops out of her mouth she is even more mortified but has no choice but to stay on the tram so that she can go back to her own home. The passengers are silenced by her condition, and no-one on the bus offers either help nor any word of compassion. The narrative is told in the first person, as we see from the title, as the narrator, Constance, reveals all of the problems and the angst that she is experiencing. We are positioned to gradually comprehend her loneliness, her history of the loss of all family, and her mistreatment by, and obsession with, one man who should know better.
We discover that she has no one to support her, in the way of family or friends. She does have a job in a medical practice and it is this that grounds her, to some extent, but also it is where the catalyst arises that adds violence and trauma to her life. The doctor in the practice where she works has behaved inappropriately, and she is both obsessed by him and angry, and we hear of her angst as she addresses him, as the 'you' in the narrative. When she finds an old man whose flat overlooks the doctor's apartment, she visits him so that she can spy on the doctor, yet unexpectedly she comes to care for this lonely man, and he for her. When she realises that she has become an important part of the older man's life, there is a dawning recognition of her own kindness and a realisation that this may be her chance to help someone else and to find meaning in her life.
The language is frequently harsh, coarse and angry, her words plunging us into the darkness of her world. We are aware that the behaviour of the doctor is most inappropriate, but he is depicted as careless about the emotional well-being of others, having little compunction about the appropriacy of his actions. Unsettling, richly descriptive of the loneliness that is her reality, and of her physical and sexual encounters, this novel is not for the faint-hearted. While Charlotte Levin evokes a world that few of us would wish for, she elicits a sense of deep compassion for the woman, and evokes a notion of the terrible loneliness that some people experience. It would be appropriate for adults and older adolescent readers and is not suitable for younger adolescents.
Elizabeth Bondar

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