How Much the Heart Can Hold: Seven Stories on Love edited by Emma Herdman

Review published on August 5, 2017.

Of the numerous things I gained from reading How Much the Heart Can Hold, most significant was the understanding that, if you had to explain to an alien what love is and why we do it, that alien would think we were all completely mad. This collection of short stories has love as its focus, with each contribution taking a concept of love as its inspiration; the result is a wide range of narrative arcs, including an unfaithful husband caring for his sick wife, a brother trying to support his sister as she deals with racism in the workplace and a young girl’s erotic awakening.

The premise for the collection may sound somewhat pretentious – an exploration of the seven Greek definitions of love, from mania (obsessive love) to philautia (self-love) – but, thanks to the accomplished styles of the authors featured, the Greek terms are interpreted broadly, without undue over-reliance on romantic plotlines. Carys Bray’s ‘Cordas,’ inspired by the idea of familial love, is a quietly lovely exploration of the relationship between a daughter, her son and her father, pleasingly lacking in histrionics, neatly counterbalanced by D.W. Wilson’s more muscular ‘One More Thing Coming Undone,’ in which an emotionally closed middle-aged man revisits a long-defunct relationship. Donal Ryan’s ‘Magdala, Who Slips Sometimes,’ with its consideration of obsessive love, is particularly resonant, while newcomer Phoebe Roy contributes a charming, low-key tale of two men and the peaks and troughs of their relationship. Some selections inspire deeper thought; Nikesh Shukla’s White Wine’ exposes deep-seated prejudice, while Bernadine Evaristo makes God a woman – a despairing one – in ‘The Human World,’ which touches on many of the issues facing us today.

Despite disparate styles and themes, the stories here hang together neatly; there’s no mistaking one for the next, with each writer’s voice emerging clearly, but there’s a sense of natural progression, with the collection as a whole providing a quite comprehensive exploration of love in its various forms. It’s a brief but very satisfying read.

Katy Goodwin-Bates 4/4

How Much the Heart Can Hold: Seven Stories on Love edited by Emma Herdman
Sceptre 9781473649453 pbk Aug 2017

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