‘Her inner monologue was framed by Victorian fiction, and her habits and her speech became a peculiar mix of the old-fashioned and the poetic and the unashamedly forward-thinking, with a healthy disregard for the patriarchy.’ When I read this, on page three of Acts of Love by Talulah Riley, we had just been introduced to Bernadette, the main character. She who had based her ideal partner on the books she read reminded me so much of me that I fell in love with her (ever the narcissist, that’s me!). While the books I read while growing up weren’t Victorian romances but Victorian crime novels, I too have an unusual way of talking (my nickname at school was ‘monopoly articulate’, I kid you not) and expect to fall into a whodunit mystery every time I am invited to a dinner party. And of course I have a healthy disregard for the patriarchy.
Bernadette is Squire magazine’s ‘The Man Whisperer’, writing in depth interviews and articles featuring men of both the rich and powerful variety. She doesn’t particularly like men apart from Tim, a man ‘she had never been allowed close enough to find fault’ and when she is introduced to Radley Blake he is everything she doesn’t like (especially in the fact that he isn’t Tim). What’s more he knows when she’s acting and when she isn’t and see through the battle-armour she has built around herself.
Acts f Love follows Bernadette and Radley over a snapshot of their lives and it isn’t a spoiler to say that they in common than she would like (especially in the beginning). I devoured this book trying to get to the scenes with the two of them because Talulah has written them with such wit and humour. Bernadette is spoiled, passionate, ambitious, and very truthful – none of that made me dislike her, and in fact I liked her more. She wasn’t the romance genre character you find so often, full of clumsiness and sexual frustration. There was one scene mid way through the book when she is speaking to a group of people about her career and someone asks her for advice on getting laid.
‘Probably not ones you’d care to hear…I’m sleeping with him.’
I will leave you all to find out which him she is referring to but that little piece of dialogue had me laughing on the tube.
Radley dropped out of medical school to start up his own company, a company which now makes a lot of money and has propelled him into being one of the richest and most enigmatic men in America. He gives Bernadette the chance to interview him for one of her infamous Man Whisperer profiles. He has never given anyone or any publication this opportunity before and even though she is initially reluctant, she agrees to shadow him both in his home and at his work: her curiosity over his life and work wins over her reluctance to get to know him better.
It is clear from the very beginning that he fancies the pants of her but he also knows that she loves Tim (or has convinced herself that she loves him) and by Tim asking Elizabeth to marry him, she is angry and hurt. Having her shadow him throws the two of them in each other’s worlds and gives him the chance to show her that he isn’t the man she thought he was and that he snap judgements about him are wrong. As I said the interactions between the two of them (well between Bernadette and everyone really) are very, very funny and very entertaining.
Bernadette also is a feminist and Acts of Love doesn’t shy away from how she uses her ‘feminine beauty’ to get men to do what they want and then hates them for it. I really enjoyed this element of Bernadette’s character because a) I am also a feminist, and b) female characters aren’t often given the opportunity to hate anyone, let alone men. In fact I can’t remember the last time I read a book where this happened and she was still the hero. And I don’t mean the faux-hate the female character has for the male character in many romance novels.
I really enjoyed Acts of Love and can’t wait to see what other people think of it once it’s released. While there was a lot I loved the main thing has to be Talulah’s style of prose. The dialogue is sharp and there were some truly brilliant turns of phrases. I love the depth of description in Acts of Love because I am not a reader who always agrees that less is more. In this case the adjectives, the insights into characters, the little snide comments all equalled a wonderful debut novel.
Acts of Love by Talulah Riley is out on August 11th 2016 and will be available from all good and evil book retailers and the library. I received this book free from the publisher and the free book-based swag hasn’t influenced my opinion or the content of this review because I genuinely loved this book and recommend it.
Also, how beautiful is the proof cover? The final one is even better.