Writing a novel about writing a novel? It often feels cliché or forced, but can it be done successfully? Lily King’s 2020 novel “Writers & Lovers” makes it seem possible. King’s use of positive and negative moments and introspection throughout the writing process of the main character, Casey, make the writing of a novel within this novel feel more realistic and natural.
In “Writers & Lovers,” 31-year-old Casey Peabody navigates the struggles of her growing debt, difficulty finishing the novel she’s been working on for six years, medical scares and love life just months after her mother’s sudden death. For the majority of the story, nothing in Casey’s life is going well. She is working as a waitress despite her multiple degrees in English and Creative Writing and has just had her heart broken. What seems to set Casey apart from her former friends and peers is that she is still trying to hold onto her creative side and finish her novel. This, however, is also not going very well for her after her mother’s death.
Even though I found the ending slightly unrealistic, I loved this novel as a whole. I felt as though I could truly feel and understand the extremely intense emotions — whether anxiety, sadness or love — that Casey was feeling, despite King never explicitly stating them. Even when Casey doesn’t understand what she is feeling, it is clear to the reader what is going on inside her head and her heart because of King’s immersive prose.
One example of King’s skill at indirectly communicating Casey’s feelings comes when Casey is deciding which of two men, Oscar and Silas, she wants to continue a relationship with. Even though Casey originally chooses Oscar, it is apparent that she is still thinking about Silas and might have even had a stronger connection with him. Casey never voices these doubts, but they are quite evident through King’s writing style.
King also did an incredible job building the secondary characters in the novel. “Writers & Lovers” has a very clear protagonist in Casey, and almost all the stories are about her life and struggles, yet each of her friends and family members are actualized as three-dimensional human beings. Casey has two best friends: Harry, from work, and Muriel, who is also a writer. These two characters could have just been left as supporting characters to build on Casey’s storyline but instead, King gave them each their own engaging personalities and stories. Harry is often mentioned as having feelings for people who do not reciprocate and going through many difficulties in finding a steady relationship. The fact that both Casey and Harry have been going through romantic troubles gives the reader insight into why Harry and Casey may be such good friends. Muriel is Casey’s only friend who pursued a career in writing in the long-term, which indicates the reason behind their strong connection. However, the readers also learn about Muriel’s love life and experiences, giving her more depth than just her status as Casey’s best friend. Muriel and Harry are always there for Casey, especially in dark moments, like her health scare. These characters give the reader hope that Casey will end up okay, because she has people looking out for her even when she feels like she doesn’t. While they may feel minor in comparison to Casey’s story, they also provide a necessary contrast to Casey and make the story more believable. Many characters made Casey who she is, and getting to know these characters helps us understand Casey’s life better.
The one character I wish King had written more about was Casey’s mother. Casey is constantly being reminded of her mother and is still mourning her very intensely. After Casey’s mother passes away, her whole life turns upside down. Casey is unable to make it a day without breaking down in tears when something inevitably reminds her of her mother. However, I felt as though their relationship was being told as opposed to shown throughout the story. I didn’t fully understand the relationship between the two characters; I could only tell they were close because of Casey’s reaction to her mother’s death. While King wrote most of the story through descriptive language without having to explicitly state why something was important, Casey’s relationship with her mother felt the opposite. King had to make Casey say that her mother was important to her and changed her life, as opposed to showing it through her writing.
Despite all of Casey’s hardships and struggles throughout the novel, everything in the story ends on a very positive note. “Writers & Lovers” was written about a year ago, and after the difficult year that was 2020, it was refreshing to read a story with a truly happy ending. However, it was hard to believe that everything in Casey’s life turned around so quickly. After reading almost 300 pages of Casey struggling with intense anxiety that is seemingly only getting worse, it did not feel plausible that her problems improved, one after the other, over the span of fifty pages towards the end. While I would love to believe that things can change so fast, I simply can’t see how this could be the case for Casey.
I would definitely recommend this novel, but only if you are prepared to feel a wide range of emotions in a very short amount of time. King’s writing enables the reader to empathize and understand the character of Casey Peabody, even if they can’t always relate to what she is going through. Despite the story being framed as a romance, it is really about a woman discovering who she is and what she values most. If you want a quick read with strong writing and characters, “Writers & Lovers” should be your next book.