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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

In this love story, the lovers just aren't all that lovable

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THIS debut novel is being marketed as contemporary fiction, but it's essentially a romance.

Croatian writer Nataša Dragnic's Every Day, Every Hour managed to sell in more than 20 countries even before it was published. The title comes from a poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and like the 2009 bestseller One Day, by Brit writer David Nicholls, it follows the ebb and flow of a couple's relationship over a span of 20 years.

The novel opens in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1965. Luka meets Dora on his first day of nursery school and literally faints at the sight of her. The two are inseparable from then on, until six years later when Dora's father announces they are moving to France. Both children are devastated, but what can they do? Life goes on. Barely.

"No more Luka. As if he were dead. As if she were, too. And the whole world. Dead. Dead. Dead deaddeaddeadddeadddeaddeaddeaddeaddeadddead."

Over the ensuing years, Dora graduates from theatre school in Paris, while Luka paints and begins selling his art. Both become involved with other people, but although they never forget the powerful bond they share, it is too painful to dwell on the past.

As young adults, they meet up again by chance in Paris and realize their love for each other is stronger than ever. After several blissful months together, Luka must return to Zagreb, promising to call Dora soon to make plans for their future. But when too much time passes with no word from Luka, Dora panics.

" 'Why don't you call him?' they ask. But Dora has no number. Luka didn't give her one and she hadn't thought to ask for it, she'd simply forgotten. Things like that happen."

Do they? For two people so "passionately, unconditionally, completely" in love, as Dragnic says, it seems doubtful.

Dora eventually tracks Luka down in his hometown, only to find he has married another woman in the meantime. But, he tells Dora, he still loves her. And so it goes.

Though Every Day, Every Hour is certainly a love story, Luka and Dora are not very lovable. Luka is a screw-up and a philanderer and Dora's arrogance and sense of entitlement are infuriatingly childish.

"'He married the wrong woman, for the wrong reasons. He loves me. I am his life. Nothing else matters'... Dora is tired, too, and doesn't like having to explain things that concern only her and Luka."

Ultimately, however, it's Dragnic's writing that falls short. The witty back and forth banter that worked so well in One Day is missing here. Conversations between the two lovers are repetitive and often sound as if they've been lifted from a "tween" romance.

"[A]nd you weren't there, until the very last I kept hoping that you would rescue me, like Indiana Jones, or like a..."

"Like a proper prince, you mean."

"Like a proper prince."

"But you're the prince. My prince, don't you know that anymore?"

Dragnic also draws some odd analogies, a few of them so ludicrous they jump off the page and distract from the already flimsy plot:

"She can already feel his mouth on her skin, and her stomach flutters with the wild wing beats of thousands of pelicans -- she'd just seen a nature documentary on television"

Translation into English does not account for some of Dragnic's choices, such as likening Luka's many conquests to "a bag of Gummi bears."

A Harlequin Romance writer would be executed for less.

 

Lindsay McKnight works in the arts in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 J9

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