Love Story was published in 1970, and was one of the first mega-blockbuster books. It sold tens of millions of copies, and a large number of people appear to claim it as their favourite book of all time. It is actually a novelisation of a screenplay which, following the success of the book, was produced and performed extraordinarily well. I was born in 1985 – more than a little too late to appreciate the fuss. Yet given readers’ apparent enduring love of the book, though, I wanted to read it.
Love Story is a short book, running to fewer than 100 pages. It tells the story of the blossoming love between rich Harvard law student Oliver Barrett IV and poor Radcliffe music student Jenny Cavilleri, who dies at an awfully young age. That isn’t a spoiler: it is revealed in the first line of the book.
But I’m not sure that the headline “love story” is the most interesting: another felt more moving to me. The subplot follows Oliver’s changing relationship with his father. Segal’s own father died shortly before he wrote this novel, and perhaps this is the reason for this subplot being infused with such emotion.
Yet, despite this, the book felt a bit flat. The characters felt a little cardboard, with the shallow characterisation bluntly hammered home time and again, with little room for subtlety. The plot is stretches realism beyond breaking point in parts: the refusal of the doctor to tell Jennifer her own diagnosis, for example. And I found the dialogue throughout to be awkwardly stilted.
Despite all of its flaws, the book was still moving. But it felt like it was moving me in a sort of emotionally manipulative way, as though the mechanics were on show and I was being prodded in a direction, rather than moving me by engaging me on a deeper level. I’ve not seen the movie, but I believe it relies heavily on strings to generate emotion, and that’s sort of how the book feels too. It was moving, but not in an especially memorable or deeply affecting way.
So, I guess I enjoyed Love Story while I read it, but it was a little clunky. I’m not going to rush to read Segal’s sequel.
Love Story is available now from amazon.co.uk, in paperback and on Kindle.