‘The Life-Writer’ by David Constantine – An Analyst of Feelings


‘The Life-Writer’ by David Constantine    (2016)   –    233 pages



Welcome to the world of feelings, where feelings matter and intense feelings matter intensely.  Never have I read such a novel as ‘The Life-Writer’ so obsessed about feelings to the exclusion of nearly everything else. ‘The Life-Writer’ is solely concerned with the higher sensibilities like grief and sadness and love and literature.

Let me first describe the situation that is the story of the novel.

Sixty-eight year-old Englishman Eric has been married to his much younger wife Katrin for about thirty years.  He suddenly is faced with a grave illness, and he does not last the year.  For Katrin left alone, Eric had been the exclusive love of her life.  After his funeral, she decides to devote her time to researching Eric’s love life from before he met her.  His first romantic entanglement was while he was still a teenager with a French girl named Monique.   Eric and Monique were together for only a few months, so I thought it was rather preposterous that Monique showed up for his funeral fifty years later.  However I guess in the esoteric world of feelings that kind of thing is possible.    All of Monique’s old letters to Eric, some of them never opened by Eric, are up in the attic, and Katrin decides to study all these old letters as well as to discuss Monique with Eric’s old friend from that time, Daniel.    Author Constantine takes us back to that time of Eric and Monique fifty years ago.

I am rather skeptical of the author as well as I am of his character Katrin attaching so much importance to this teenage romance from fifty years ago.    Actually I am skeptical of any teenage boy carrying on a relationship that is meaningful after all those years.  However ‘The Life-Writer’ is not written for romantic skeptics.

Monique is not the only woman in Eric’s past from before he met Katrin.  After his break-up with Monique, he married Edna, and that marriage was rather a disaster ending in divorce although they did have a son.  It was a rebound marriage.

OK, so I was skeptical of this novel’s premise.  However that did not keep me from enjoying this novel on its own precious terms.  It is a well-written careful analysis of feelings. I just had to get into the author’s mindset that these feelings are the most important things in this world.   David Constantine is also a poet, and ‘The Life-Writer’ does seem the kind of obsessive pristine novel that a poet might write.

David Constantine also wrote the story which is the basis of the movie ’45 Years’ which came out this year.  I watched that movie starring Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay as part of this assignment.   It is similar to ‘The Life-Writer’ in that it is a story about people in their sixties re-evaluating their love of many years.  It is a movie that builds up slowly, but really grabs you at the end.   I recommend it, but I am unsure young people would like it as much.  ’45 Years’ is one of the few adult movies that have come out this year.


Grade:   B+


3 responses to this post.

  1. I like the sound of this. I suspect that nostalgia for that first, most passionate love is not all that uncommon though most of us wouldn’t go to the extent of turning up at a funeral decades later.



    • Hi Lisa
      I did think the concentration on feeling to the exclusion of most else was a little precious, but I still totally enjoyed the novel. I do think you would like ‘The Life-Writer’.
      Looking back on my teenage years, I realize I was quite immature then. Not that all that much has changed. 🙂



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