The break-up of a long-term relationship might feel like a time to look back and regret what has been lost.
But sometimes, an ending can be a beginning… the start of a journey of self-discovery where the possibilities of change are endless and the future might actually look fresh and exciting.
If your despondent heart needs a jolt back into action after a year of pandemic torpor, steep yourself in Laura Kay’s funny, uplifting and intensely human rom-com which has a refreshingly warm and wonderful gay love story at its core.
Frustrated at the lack of representation of ‘queer love’ in rom-coms and how LGBTQ+ characters in romance stories are often presented as caricatures and tokens, Kay set out to write a novel of love, heartache, friendship and family underpinned by gay people who are palpably real.
The result is The Split, a smart, contemporary tale which follows the fortunes and misfortunes of overweight, out-of-sorts Alexandra (Ally) Waters who, aged twenty-nine, is left homeless, jobless and alone after she is dumped by her girlfriend of seven years.
When her girlfriend Emily reveals she has been seeing another woman, Ally feels wounded and betrayed. Emily reckons they aren’t ‘right together’ any more and complains that Ally has been too passive, making it hard for Emily to be ‘the energy for two people.’
There’s only one place Ally can flee to… back home to Sheffield to stay with her widower dad who is ‘the physical embodiment of a lifeboat.’ Ally doesn’t pack much when she leaves but she does take the one thing that might soothe her pain and force her ex to speak to her again… Emily’s beloved cat, Malcolm.
Back home, Ally indulges herself in her other love… baking and eating cakes. But her dad is determined to take her in hand and forces Ally into a ‘date’ with neighbour’s son Jeremy who went to school with Ally and recently broke up with his boyfriend Ben.
And after wanting to be alone with her sorrows, Ally starts to enjoy spending time with Jeremy who has come up with a ridiculous plan to win back their former loves by running in a half-marathon to prove their commitment, self-worth and their fitness.
‘Given that neither of them can even run round the block, they enlist the support of athletic, not to mention beautiful, personal trainer Jo’
Given that neither of them can even run round the block, they enlist the support of athletic, not to mention beautiful, personal trainer Jo. Will she have them running for the hills… or will their ridiculous plan pay off?
The impact of Ally’s messy relationship break-up reverberates far beyond the ripples at Emily’s river boat on the Thames in London as our heartbroken heroine heads north to the comfort of her family home and the loving arms of her dependable and reassuringly down-to-earth dad.
Struggling to find comfort anywhere or in anything, and preferring to shun others as she wallows in food and misery, Ally soon discovers that family support and spending time with the equally heartbroken Jeremy are the spurs for a new way of looking at life, and an unexpected friendship which turns out to be one of the highlights of this clever rom-com.
Interspersing her story with an entertaining (and very revealing) email correspondence between Ally and Emily, Kay exposes the fault lines, the frustrations, the disparities and also the deep love that have been the hallmarks of the two women’s bittersweet relationship.
Full of witty one-liners and sparkling characters, featuring a larger-than-life cat and mouth-watering cakes, and delivering shedloads of feelgood factor (for many, an essential component of Covid reading) The Split is a welcome ray of sunshine.
(The Split by Laura Kay, Quercus, hardback, £14.99)