Book Review: The Joys of Love by Madeleine L’Engle

By Elizabeth Contos in Poetry & Literature


Think back to all of your summers. Think, was there a delicious summer, one when the world was young? A summer where every choice before you was the beginning of your entire life?

Now imagine you are a writer, a writer in love with the theatre. And imagine that the only way to remember that delicious summer was in the words of a book. And so you piece together a story, with scraps from your own life, and bits of the theatre that you love, and the faces of people you used to know, and you breathe life into it and call it your own. And then you move on, and you die, and it never gets published.

I have just traced a faint picture of what it must have been for Madeleine L’Engle (award winning author of A Wrinkle in Time among other works) to write The Joys of Love. According to her granddaughter, in the introduction to the novel, L’Engle’s early work was left to gather dust, but had long been adored by some of her relations. So following her death, a new, and somewhat old story, has been released to the public.

Perhaps due to it’s partly autobiographical basis, The Joys of Love is delightfully believable. The world within the pages leaps out and draws us in all at once. Somehow, it is fiction, and not fiction.

The plot of the book is simple, following four days of a young Elizabeth Jerrold’s summer as an apprentice in the theatre, in which we are introduced to her friends: wild Ben, enthusiastic Jane, and cynical John-Peter, to name a few; and to her idol, Kurt Canitz. She is almost completely happy, in love with her summer and the theatre, until both throw her a few unexpected curves.

Elizabeth, as an eager actress, cannot help but imparting some of her passion and knowledge to us, the readers. Her insights on the theatre, for instance, makes for a particularly interesting dialogue at one point, where she describes her love for Chekov’s The Seagull. She describes to a colleague her awe of the play-writer’s understanding of human nature, of how raw and complex his characters are.

For us, L’Engle accomplishes a similar feat to Chekov in The Joys of Love. The writing, the plot, the characters, are all the mark of an author that understands and interacts with the world around her. Her book is full of characters brimming with personality, and the story she weaves, though simple, is wonderfully exploratory. The aptness she displays for human observation is nothing short of extraordinary, and her writing manages to be ponderous and absorbing while remaining simple and seemingly effortless.

The Joys of Love brings us a refreshingly innocent, yet exceptionally wise, perspective on life, love and friendship. It is a fascinating conduit for L’Engle’s wisdom and passion, and walking through it’s pages is an inspiration.