Time and again people have tried to quantify, to rationalise, to endlessly analyse love in order to understand it. As we get older most of us understand that love refuses to be boxed into neatly defined terms, that it often makes no sense, and that of all emotions it can be the one that is most illogical.
David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary attempts to describe a relationship by using 185 dictionary entries – “Aberrant” is the first entry and “Zenith” is the last. Through these entries we meet an unnamed couple whose relationship is charted through the book, although not in chronological order (so the reader finds out early on that she was unfaithful but remains unsure whether this causes the break-up of the relationship). The female character is flighty, drinks to excess and comes from an unhappy home, whereas the male character is the steadier one trying to hold their relationship together despite her propensity to create storms. They meet online, form a relationship which they chart in first weeks and then months, they move in together and meet each other’s families, intimacy grows and alongside it problems begin to emerge.
The Lover’s Dictionary reminds me in a way of Alain de Botton’s Essays In Love – an attempt to make sense of a relationship using a familiar framework. Although Essays in Love is more in-depth and a lengthier read I think both have much to say in their own ways. The Lover’s Dictionary is deceptive in that is slender and easily devoured in one sitting, but I think that repeated readings will reveal a more complex book which, in leaving much unsaid, allows the reader to make the story their own.