J. David Simons has written some of my favourite novels of the 21st century, including An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful and A Woman of Integrity. His latest, The Responsibility of Love, is a reminder just why that is. Reading it is like catching up with an old friend, one who has an often caustic sense of humour and wry wit.
In it Simons asks if we have a responsibility to those who fall in love with us - an idea often explored in literature, perhaps most famously in Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, but also in books as varied as George Eliot's Middlemarch, Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace, Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart, and countless more. It's a theme which lends itself to literary examination.
The Responsibility of Love begins with writer Jake Tully as he dresses for an award ceremony, believing that today is to be his day – unofficially ‘Jake Tully Day’ – when he will be able to right wrongs and publicly answer his critics. Tully is a terrific creation, one who is a potent mix of ego and arrogance crossed with self doubt, fear, and loathing (both directed inwards and towards others). Tully has collected many titles over the years which include son, husband, father, friend, lover, writer, and his perceived failure in all of these roles explains why Jake Tully Day is his (last?) chance at a shot of redemption and means everything to him, if for all the wrong reasons.
As Jake Tully's day and life unravels in spectacular fashion ‘Now’, we jump back and forward to ‘Then’, where the roots of all his current predicaments are to be found, and this is where the more poignant story is. It shows the consequences of selfishness and narcissism, and ignoring those 'responsibilities of love' - recounting times when he was less than careful with the hearts of others, and sowing the seeds for his later disaffection and isolation. While the two sections have their own tone - 'Now' almost feels like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm as Jake Tully Day reaches ever increasing levels of absurdity, while the 'Then' sections are more melancholy and self-reflective - they feed into each other beautifully.
It's a novel which is not only about a writer, but about writing itself. J. David Simons' writing is always clever and intricate, with literary flourishes and bold stylistic decisions which are often surprising and gratifying. An example is the beginning of the 'Serialisation of The Responsibility of Love by Jake Tully' in 'The Sunday Times', which closes Simons' novel. It's not only the book within a book, but makes you reassess all that you have just read. The Responsibility of Love is a darkly comedic novel with an examination of human nature at its heart, and which will have readers pondering their own past, and present, relationships and just how responsible they have been.
A version of this article first appeared in SNACK Magazine