A few days ago I finished Bernadine Bishop’s psychologically astute novel, Unexpected Lessons in Love. It was no surprise when I found out that the writer has been both a teacher and a psychotherapist. Her characters are complex, they face raw and difficult situations and reveal themselves through often tricky relationships, through, what she calls, ‘unexpected lessons in love’. Nor is it a surprise that life has been hard for this author and that the cancer she writes about with such honesty in the novel formed part of her story, a tragedy which nevertheless allowed her to return to writing. She reflects that after the first chapter, ‘I fell in love with what I was writing…I remember the excitement, the energy that seemed to have been waiting there for me to tap into.’
The final lines of her novel sum up what I think all good fiction is about: change. The unexpected. And how hard we find the new things that hurl themselves at our lives, but how they are both unavoidable and, more than that, how they form an essential part of our human existence. As I think through all the stories I have written and am writing, I acknowledge that this lies at the heart of every single one fo them: characters undergoing the unexpected.
Here are Bishop’s closing words:
[Cecilia] was used to uncertainty now. It may be too strong to say that she throve on it, but it served to remind her daily that the comfortable certainty we are all expected to strive for is not a necessary or natural state for the human heart. P378.