Monday, July 25, 2011

book review: Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Next to Love: A NovelThe backstory: I loved Scottsboro, Ellen Feldman's last novel (my review), which was on the 2009 Orange Prize shortlist, and I've been eagerly awaiting Next to Love since I first heard about it.

The basics: Next to Love is the story of Babe, Millie and Grace, three long-time friends who together face their husbands (or boyfriend in the case of Babe) going off to war, the tragedies of war and re-building a life after war.

My thoughts: Sometimes when I start reading a book, I never want to put it down. It isn't necessarily an indication I will think of the book in the coming months and years. I enjoy thrillers and mysteries, and it's often the experience of reading them I enjoy. Then there are books I may not especially enjoy while reading them (ahem, Freedom), but I can't stop thinking about them. Sometimes the book is both. Next to Love was both an exhilarating read, albeit a tragic one, and one that ventured beyond its initial scope to enchant me further.

At first glance, Next to Love is a war novel. I was fascinated by the lives of these three women, as well as the rest of the town. There were beautiful details included about life during the war that helped make the heart-wrenching moments even more tragic. As in Scottsboro, Feldman does not shy away from the gritty reality of the times. As I read these pages, I winced, laughed, cried and bemoaned the state of the world and sometimes humanity.

I was grateful for the times of laughter to balance out the darkness of parts of it:
"He says he's always wanted to live and work in a small town."
"What do you want to bet he has never lived and worked in a small town?"
Amy looks up from her plate. Her black eyebrows are set in a quizzical frown.
"That's a joke," Babe says.
"How come your jokes aren't like everyone else's?"
"Oh, sweetie, how I wish I knew the answer to that."
What surprised me about this novel was how far the story went after the war ended. I didn't expect to see the story move so far in time, but I'm so glad it did. For these characters, the war is only the beginning of the story; it's impacts continue to be felt.

Favorite passage: "No one likes to be called naive, especially by someone she considers more naive. The charge brings out her seditious side."

The verdict: Next to Love is an intense and moving novel of life, love and war. I read it in a single sitting, but both the powerful narrative and its characters will stay with me. I hope it finds a place on the 2012 Orange Prize longlist too.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5 stars)
Length: 291 pages
Publication date: July 26, 2011
Source: Publisher

Treat yourself! Order Next to Love from Amazon (Kindle version) or from an independent bookstore.

As an affiliate, I receive a very, very small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. SO glad you loved this one! I, too, did not expect the story to continue on so far past the war, but I loved the novel for doing so. Gah, it was such a gut punch, but so beautifully done -- now I want to reread it!

  2. Wow, this seems like it was a great read for you! I am sort of intrigued by it now and wonder if I would also like it. Your review was wonderful and has made me consider trying this one out. Thanks!

  3. I will read pretty much any book set during the war. Knowing that it's this good only makes me want to read it sooner!

  4. I have to get my hands on this book! =) Thanks for the great review! Sounds perfect!

  5. I enjoyed Scottsboro so it is great to see that you enjoyed this one so much. I look forward to reading it at some point over the Summer.

  6. wow...high praise indeed. I did want to read this one before the movie, but not sure if I'll have the chance. Need to see if the library has it.

  7. I'm so happy you liked this one because I've got it on my shelf to read soon.

  8. I loved this book, too. This is the best WWII homefront novel I've read so far. Even though the author takes the characters so far beyond the war, I wasn't ready to let them go when the book ended. I've linked to your review on War Through the Generations.


Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!