AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LOVE by M. Scheil

AN ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LOVE

edited by
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Pseudonymous Scheil reveals somewhat less than all of love’s many facets for those literate voyeurs genuinely interested in the intimate details of other people’s relationships. Her narrative is a voluminous rendering of a love affair between an American woman (middle-aged, Jewish, a playwright and long-time resident of England) and an Englishman (middle-aged, an artist) that ended abruptly after two years with the death of the latter; the former is the author. To further distance herself, Scheil adopts third-person narrative, referring to the lovers as “the duo” or as “he” and “she.” The 22 subjects included in the encyclopedia are arranged alphabetically, including A for abilities, art, and attitudes; C for character and cookery; L for love; and S for self-image and sex. The author vows that overlapping subjects will be cross-referenced, and she delivers fully on that promise. Thus, for example, under Religion we find cross-references for “Beliefs: God; Biography/Hers: various; Biography/Joint; Seders; Cookery/Specialties (His)”; and more. The result is a break-up of the continuity of traditional narrative, allowing all phases of the relationship to be studied simultaneously for the patient seeker of facts. Readers are encouraged to approach Scheil’s jigsaw puzzle from all manner of angles, reading bits and pieces in whatever order most appeals. In this way, the man’s death no longer plays the central role it might have in a more conventionally structured plot. Does the story come together on its own terms, however? Oddly, much of the book’s potential seems obscured by writing that is more reportorial than ardent. In fact, Scheil’s prose is dry, factual, and fussy. What was most likely an intentional stylistic choice has backfired. Though explicit on everything from the couple’s sex life to their eating habits, Scheil’s —encyclopedic— prose could have used more of the passion that characterized her relationship.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-19871-X
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1998