At the heart of it

Staying In

AUTHOR Indyana Schneider’s first novel about love in all its guises, growing up, and figuring out who you are along the way.

Book review
Bríd Conroy

Love. Can we ever really explain the phenomenon? Is it our natural state? Do we define love by the chasm of its absence?
In his famous speech in ‘The Great Dictator’ (1940), Charlie Chaplin speaks of the ‘unloved’, the ‘brutes’ who want only to hate. Living as we have these past weeks with war once more in Europe, we are all too aware what the absence of love looks like. As a counterbalance, I sought out books about love for my reads this week.
‘28 Questions’, by Indyana Schneider, published by Scribner, is as simple and pure as love is itself. This is her debut novel. Interestingly, her day job is opera singer. Schneider compares music composition to love and ‘is calmed by the unhurried pace’ of her music, as is the reader of this beautiful book.
It is set over four years and five cities, and it focuses on the unexpected love that emerges between two friends at university. Much of the story is told in dialogue between ‘her’ and ‘me’, which flows and ebbs like an opera. Musical notes feature throughout, as does a full composition written by ‘me’ for ‘her’. Schneider also references many of her favourite authors like Zadie Smith, Maggie Nelson and André Acimen.
Each chapter centres around a question, such as, ‘Are all relationships about power, when do we need to be brave and who would you look for in heaven?’. The narrator, Amalia joins a philosophy group and concludes socialising with philosophers is dangerous. She explores  our love language, how we speak about love and how we express love. She labours humanity’s often fatal draw to forbidden love as we travel with her through the pain and loss of a love that is, but will never be.
I am suddenly reminded of that most famous of all forbidden love stories, ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It is 1980, and Mrs Hudson, our English teacher, eager to share her passion, tells us to open the book at Act 1: “Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge, break to new mutiny, where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.” I can still remember the shiver of anticipation.
The Montagues and the Capulets were the feuding families. Love between the two families was forbidden and indeed considered impossible and not at all desired. Yet love had and has its own rules. It transcends all that we deem to be sacred. It challenges us to question what we truly hold so sacred, if it so forsakes love.
‘28 Questions’ oozes youth, lightness and beauty. One is reminded upon reading it to rekindle that in oneself. And if that doesn’t work, get out an old battered copy of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Love to all.

Bríd Conroy and her husband Neil Paul run Tertulia – A Bookshop Like No Other at The Quay, Westport.