Review published on October 17, 2016.
Technology has drastically affected the way we think about, pursue and understand relationships – many would say not for the better. But Will Darbyshire, very much one of the new generation of social media aces, has used technology to create a truly universal and relatable book about the human experience of love.
Over a period of twelve months, Will posed a series of questions about love via his website and YouTube channel and the world answered him, with over 15,000 responses coming from 100 different countries, which were then curated down to form the book, This Modern Love. From letters to poems to tweets, the book not only features a spectrum of means of communication but also the spectrum of human feeling, from unrequited love to love fulfilled, from passionate all-consuming desire to bitter acrimony. Each and every response though is singularly heartfelt and the sentiments are clear to see. Like love itself, reading this book is an emotional roller coaster and there are messages and words that will hit home for every reader. There are some exceptionally beautiful words in here, as well as some exceptionally heartbreaking and poignant stories, and there’s a poetry to the whole project.
The book is structured into three parts: beginning, middle and end – which reflect, as the names suggest, the various stages of a relationship. Whilst there is a logic to this approach, for me the structure led to the book ending on a somewhat depressing note. There are in the final section words of hope, forgiveness and growth, but you can’t escape, too, that feeling of an ending, and it did feel a bit downbeat. I also felt this end section, in particular, was a bit restrictive in terms of its range. The range obviously depends on the responses received, but I felt that in addition to those messages of finality and despair, bitterness and recrimination, there may have been more messages of love’s triumph and love restored. So too messages not only about love that has ended but love mortally lost, which would have made for a different perspective and sentiment. More messages of love triumphing against the odds and over time wouldn’t have gone amiss either, but then again, it’s a matter of the demography of those taking part. For me though, a structure of beginning, middle, end and forever would have been preferable – but maybe that’s just the hopeful romantic in me speaking.
Despite this being a book about modern love that showcases the modern incarnations of love, there is also an unquestionable timelessness to it all, a sense of love’s constancy in spite of the way the world changes, and perhaps that is one of the most enlightening things about this project – that although technology now drives much of life and human experience, love is fundamentally the same.
Although the book gives the writers’ countries of domicile, I would have liked to have seen their ages. I got the sense that the majority of writers were, inevitably, younger and I would have liked to have seen a wider mix of age groupings, but again this is a question of the demographics of those who took part. Similarly, it seemed to me that a lot of the messages were written by women, again perhaps a reflection of the responses received, but equally it would have been nice to see a more balanced mix. I actually thought that the book could have been slightly longer – it’s certainly quick and easy to read from cover to cover, and a thicker volume would have been personally preferable. But with 15,000 responses to choose from there had to be some degree of editing down and, overall, the selection is varied and wide-ranging. Perhaps if there’s a second book, we’ll get to see more of these responses. For me, this book highlights the place for, and interest of, these sorts of internet-based social research projects. It would be great to see more of this type of book, which really gives an insight both into modernity and the human experience.
And finally a compliment about the book’s design, which again balances this dichotomy of modern and timeless in a beautifully packaged and thoughtfully arranged style. The book would make both a lovely gift and a valuable personal resource, especially for the younger generations, but really for anyone who has ever been in or out of love.
Jade Craddock 4/-
This Modern Love by Will Darbyshire
Century 9781780895727 hbk Aug 2016
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