“Book Review: Besotted”
Reviewed by R. Read
A literary romance to keep you speculating and wanting more
In Besotted by Melissa Duclos, an American expat searches for identity in a foreign place. Descriptions of Shanghai as well as characterization of unique people leap from the page with Duclos’s lyrical prose, putting readers right in the room of this story of love and coming of age.
Duclos tackles this smart novel from many angles, challenging the reader in fascinating ways to take steps in Sasha’s shoes as she navigates a romantic relationship with her American roommate Liz. But when Sasha gets some unexpected attention from an architect, she must come to terms with her relationship with Liz, and Liz must do the same as her Shanghainese language partner wants a bit more than a friendship. With love and loneliness at the forefront of these relationships, readers stand idly by and hope for the characters to grow and overcome the troubles they face.
“Expats often talk like that, listing cities they plan to move to the way normal people discuss the movies they’d like to see.”
Since loneliness and love exist distinctly within each reader, this allows Besotted to be received from a personal place of solitude and adoration. Strap into Sasha’s shoes and discover the pieces of herself that she must discover along the way. The art of the author’s prose keeps you turning pages both forward and backward, regularly revisiting lines to help understand the truths therein, like, “That seems important to get right. There’s a difference between lying and arranging the truth.”
But readers also get the opportunity to spend time with multiple points of view, including that of Dorian. I particularly enjoyed spending time alone with him in the late hours, watching and listening as a beer bottle slides through his fingertips and drops seven stories. As a “noise of shattering glass fill[s] the night,” I am right there on the balcony with him, wondering what happens on the street below and what will come from a seemingly small, curious detail.
I did have some difficulty with the multiple points of view at times, as so many characters deal with the proper nouns of Love, Loneliness, and more, and it leaves me occasionally wondering what just happened and to whom. But I certainly enjoyed myself too, giving a hearty laugh at times, like when a Chinese tutor says to an American student, “’Many times. With many partners.’ He didn’t realize the truth would’ve been more comforting to Liz than this lie.” How often in a foreign tongue have me made Freudian slips like this one?
And who of us mortal humans have not felt the isolation so prevalent in Besotted? “Loneliness had vacated the apartment, but she’d been replaced by a jasmine flower called Anxiety. I watched it gently unfurling, beautiful and meaningless. Noticing things gives them power.”
This book offers elements of hope, love, loss, and laughter. A good read for all those in search of overcoming the emotions that come with being an expat, both physically and emotionally.
Publisher: 713 Books
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