Published by Orenda on June 10, 2021
Genres: Adult, Family Relationships, Fiction, Literary, Social Issues
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When the mother of an autistic young man hires a call girl to make him happy, three lives collide in unexpected and moving ways … changing everything. A devastatingly beautiful, rich and thought-provoking novel that will warm your heart.
I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
*deep breath* Sigh. How can I describe a book as stunningly beautiful as This Is How We Are Human? How do I summarise, without resorting to superfluous language, the complex relationships of its main characters? Can I do this novel justice without writing an opus of my own? The honest answer is – I don’t know. What is contained within Lousie Beech’s seventh novel is a tale of such emotional strength and fortitude that my only recommendation to you is to read it. Take an afternoon, shut off the world and lose yourself. I guarantee you will come out the other side with a fresh new take on life.
Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He lives with his mum (who makes the best fried eggs in the world) loves to go swimming and adores pop hits from the 80s. Veronica is Sebastian’s mum, and she has devoted her life to his needs. Her son’s autism has meant she has had to fight every battle going. Be it against healthcare provision, education or bullies Veronica has found the strength to fight. There’s one issue that’s threatening to defeat her. Sebastian is twenty – and he has an insatiable sex drive. Having visited countless medical professionals, concerned for not only her son’s mental well being but his physical needs, she has a last-gasp appointment at a clinic.
Isabelle is a student nurse. Rushed, tired and clearly burning the candles at both ends, she finds herself sitting in on an appointment between a counsellor and a mum and son pairing. She is immediately taken by the vibes the young man gives off. Handsome, well-built, polite, and wearing swimming goggles, she is instantly charmed. He seems to know his mind and is determined. He knows what he wants. And what he wants is sex. Not love, or a relationship, just basic sex. Mum’s concerns are not without merit. Sebastian has no boundaries, he has no concept of consent and he is being constantly set up by others. Veronica’s darling boy could be on the verge of doing something inconceivable, but what can she do?
When she gets home, Isabelle thinks nothing of her day at work because she now has to focus on her other job. And her other persona. Isabelle works as a high-class escort, earning money to pay not only her student fees but also for her dad’s medical care. Trapped in a spiralling situation she fears may swallow her, Isabelle loses herself as ‘Violetta’ her escort persona. But after a run of abusive and violent incidents, Isabelle is not sure how much more she can take.
Despite advice to the contrary, Veronica takes matters into her own hands and decides that the only way she can help her son is by ‘buying’ him sex. Hoping Sebastian will then get it out of his system, she begins the search online. Soon, she stumbles across a picture of a woman who looks familiar. She looks sexy and attractive but there’s a kindness about her that appeals to Veronica. Could this Violetta be the woman to help her son?
I’d never read any of Louise Beech’s novels before so she is a totally new voice for me. But wow. What a voice it is. Everything in This Is How We Are Human feels so realistic and plausible that it’s hard to believe it’s not a biography. I work with many neurodivergent children and I can easily see them growing up into Sebastian. Kind, considerate, loving, but also frustrated and dismayed at what he cannot do, Sebastian is the true soul of the novel. This is mainly due to Beech choosing to switch the narrative to first-person solely for his chapters. I found this a real sign of respect for the character’s status. Not only does it mean that Sebastian’s voice and thoughts are his own, but it also adds credence to one of the central plot points throughout the book – the matter of consent.
While Veronica worries about what Sebastian could ‘probably’ do she’s struggling with the contentious issue of his consent. Beech raises valuable ethical questions throughout the novel about how we treat the needs of neurodivergent adults. How fairly are we treating those with needs if we deny them rights over their own decisions and bodies? Too often, those on the spectrum are viewed through the lens of tv shows such as The Undateables, giving an unfair and totally incomplete picture of their lives. This novel will hopefully begin to redress the balance.
Atmosphere seems to be one of Beech’s fortes and there are moments in the story that will take your breath away. Scenes of anger, joy, fear, revenge and pure love are in abundance, and all aspects are given equal attention. This is by no means a sad or dreary novel. I will urge caution for several scenes of rape, sexual violence and assault as well as moments of PTSD. These are graphic and often occur without warning or build up (realistically in the case of PTSD) so please be aware.
All of the characters are beautifully written and their stories keep you invested all the way through. I recently read another novel where I found it hard to connect or like anyone involved. This Is How We Are Human was the polar opposite. Many a time I internally cheered at Sebastian’s forthrightness and honesty, held back a sob at Isabelle’s pain or felt anger and despair on Veronica’s behalf as she constantly felt helpless. Although there are other minor characters, this is truly a three-person story. The way Beech writes them as three parts of a whole is clever and emphasises the connectivity we have as humans.
This Is How We Are Human is an inspiring tale of courage, belief and comprehensively love. Each moment in the novel is raw with emotion – both positive and negative. Beech’s ability to inject the ‘unsaid’ into conversations and internal monologues is unsurpassed; not once do you ever feel like you are being hit with the ‘sledgehammer of sincerity’. To have a novel with such a sensitive subject matter and not be preached to requires an incredibly talented author. Thank goodness for Louise Beech.
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