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The Secret Lives of People in Love: Includes the award-winning collection Love Begins in Winter

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Since the publication of his critically acclaimed debut collection 'The Secret Lives of People in Love', Simon Van Booy has been hailed as one of the most exciting and talented short-story writers in Anglo-American fiction. This magnificent collection brings together twenty-four stories by a writer of unparalleled lyricism, generosity and emotional power. Set in a range of locations, from Cornwall, Wales, and New York to Paris and Rome, these stark and beautiful stories are a perfect synthesis of intensity and atmosphere. Love, loss, isolation and the power of memory are Van Booy's themes, and in spare, economical prose he writes about the difficult choices we make in order to retain our humanity, and about the redemptive power of love in a violent world.

368 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 2007

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About the author

Simon Van Booy

62 books722 followers
Simon Van Booy is the award-winning and best-selling author of 10 books of fiction, and three anthologies of philosophy. He has written for the New York Times, the Financial Times, NPR, and the BBC. His books have been translated into many languages. He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. In 2013, he founded Writers for Children, a project which helps young people build confidence in their storytelling abilities through annual awards.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 359 reviews
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
March 30, 2021
I’ve come to love Simon Van Booy’s beautiful writing and story telling, having read one of his novels and two other story collections. I keep a list of authors whose writing has moved me to wanting to read all of their work. Simon Van Booy is on that list, so I chose to read this, his first story collection. I read eleven of the nineteen stories here and I found them just so overwhelming sad, I gave up. The ones I read are about love, loss and grief, sometimes regret . He takes the reader to many places from Paris, to New York to Kentucky to Athens to Poland. He takes you to the depth of sorrow in the hearts of his characters. One heartbreaking story after another proved to be too much for me. Of those that I read, my favorite was “Where They Hide Is A Mystery”. It’s about a young boy who loses his mother and becomes distanced from his father by the fullness of both of their grief. I cried while reading this and at the end for the hope it conveyed. In spite of the fact that I could not get through all of these stories, Van Booy still remains on my list.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,343 followers
December 5, 2017
Looping, lovely, languid tales of love that don't insult your intelligence or come across as overly sappy. It's quite a feat to pull off, and this author does it with aplomb. I found myself looking at the world with more tenderness, sympathy, and grace after reading this.
Profile Image for Dolors.
527 reviews2,217 followers
October 14, 2021
Simon Van Boon’s collection crosses boundaries in multiple ways. His characters’ main feature is extraterritoriality. The settings he choses to develop these emotionally intense and brief tales are diverse; from Paris to Rome passing through New York or Greece, but the feeling they produce in the reader dissolves geographical and cultural distance into a common pool of shared memory.

Emotions recognizable everywhere. Universal.
Loss, pain and love are the common experiences that unite the motley array of characters with the astonished reader who stumbles upon unparalled poetic wisdom every other page, leaving little space to process the depth of delicate thoughts drawn with sensitivity and elegance, thoughts that bloom in the shadow of fear and death as much as they thrive in blinding light.

And so a boy who recently lost his mother is able to sense her presence staring at the dark sky mined with lost stars, or a dying man laying in a hospital bed can taste the sweetness of strawberries and physically relive a moment of complete happiness swallowed by the void of long gone past.
Second chances, harrowing loss and serendipitous justice impregnate the nineteen stories that give secret life to Van Boon’s characters in love. They thrive in the kind of love that irradiates beauty and comfort even in ghastly situations, a kind of love that becomes incandescent through Van Boon’s poetic voice.

Tone, rhythm and lyrical wisdom blend in harmonic sensitivity, creating a poweful effect difficult to put down into words, words that fall short to convey the power of this author’s art. Reminiscent of Billy O’Callahan’s style, I can only urge you to pick this volume and to experience this book first hand, only then will you understand the gift it is, the chance it gives us, mortal readers, to live and to love forever through the images this writer imprints on your mind.
Timeless. Infinite. Magic.
Profile Image for Alexis Hall.
Author 51 books10.8k followers
August 5, 2019
Welp. I feel just ... kind of embarrassed?

Because I should really should have loved this. And I tried super hard to love it.

But I, um, I didn't? I couldn't. I desperately wanted to.

Basically what this book was like ... okay, so you know sometimes you pull someone who is way out of your league, and they are exquisitely charming and unbearably clever and unspeakably gorgeous and for whatever deranged reason they've consented to boink you? And you get them home and you lay them down, and you're kissing, and your hands are on all this beauty, and you're sensually slipping them out their clothes, and you know you're having an experience you're going to remember for the rest of your life, and you're going to be 87 and lying in your deathbed and your mind is going to drown you sweetly in the memory of their eyes in pleasure ... except ... you're also just kind of not feeling it? And you don't know why, and it's definitely not them, and is there something wrong with you, and why the fuck are you thinking about that really half-arsed blowjob you delivered after eating a burger-flavoured pizza from Papa Johns while missing half an episode of Stranger Things?

THAT IS THIS BOOK FOR ME. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. It's beautiful. But I am a blowjob-pizza reader and I don't deserve nice things.

Perhaps we are each allotted only a certain amount of love—enough only for an initial meeting—a serendipitous clumsiness. When it leaves to find others, the difficulty begins because we are faced with our humanness, our past, our very being
Profile Image for david.
436 reviews
September 15, 2017
An unexpected treasure from an unknown writer.

A mash-up of poetry and prose.

Eighteen short stories attempting to shape formless love.

A small book that requires you to hold the reins tight to the chest.

Too much would be lost in this exposition if you were to lope.

No, this is a leisurely amble through small but disparate parks, side by side, at times alone.

Holding hands, barefooted, lightly clad, aware of much that is visible.

An occasional glance at each other.

Smiling, now and again.

A perpetual and imperfect search to share gratitude, simplicity, friendship, desire, needs, touch;
The tenderness of ‘we together.’

Words and sentences weaving delicate, recondite paths by the shores of Black Sea Beluga and the narrow interstices of uncut Burmese Jade to an inexplicable denouement.

Until the moment of retreat, ineluctably, at times defiantly, to the sadness and noise of life,
where we spin and twirl in a senseless dance.

Profile Image for Cheri.
1,743 reviews2,271 followers
September 7, 2020
4.5 Stars

I began reading this in February 2018, and had to set it aside a little more than the halfway point, since I had others I needed to read. I had planned on picking it up this past winter, but life had other plans…

From the first story in this book, Little Birds

’I suppose the key to a good life is to gently overlook the truth and hope that at any moment we can all be reborn.’
’…his words are like little birds that follow him around and sing in his ear.’

From Where They Hide is a Mystery

’Before I met with my wife, I loved her very much. I didn’t know who she was, but I had this fire inside me for someone I knew existed. Now that she hangs out stars, I still love her, though we speak another language altogether.’

From Some Bloom in Darkness

’…as he aged, Saboné realized that he was like his sketches—that it was possible to be alive and not exist at the very same moment.’

From Distant Ships

’Night is a tattered veil suspended. The moon is full and absent all at once…Dreams are the unfinished wings of our souls.’

From Everything is a Beautiful Trick

‘We may mean nothing to time, but to each other we are kings and queens, and the world is a wild benevolent garden filled with chance meetings and unexplained departures.’

Years ago I read his The Illusion of Separateness and Everything Beautiful Began After and loved both of those, and I’m so glad I finally had time to finish this lovely collection. These stories share the essence of the solemnity of life that lies bordering the sweetness of life and love. The reality of day-to-day living while balancing life, love and a sense of hope despite evidence to the contrary at times.
Profile Image for Minnie Romanovich.
48 reviews23 followers
August 30, 2007
Rarely have I found a book that begs to be read and re-read, and then read all over again. But, this one does just that.

It is almost like a fine wine... you inhale (it) gently, swirl it around just a bit to observe its delicate colours, and then take the first tentative sip. With each sip, it becomes sweeter and lingers longer in your mouth.

Do read this book. If nothing else, it will make you pause and appreciate the tenderness and beauty of simple moments, and acknowledge that often-abused emotion we call Love.
Profile Image for Tammy Parks.
103 reviews12 followers
October 6, 2016
Sometimes I read a book that is a treasure, one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. This is one of those books. These are some of the most beautiful, breathtaking, and poetic stories I have ever read. There is so much sorrow in these stories, but at the same time, they are quite life affirming. The entire book is a favorite quote, but here are a few that I most loved:
"Memory is like life but with actors."
"She told me that love is when a person introduces you to yourself for the first time."
"I think living with the absence of someone we love is like living in front of a mountain from which a person-a speck in the distance, on some distant ridge-is perpetually waving."
"I suppose the key to a good life is to gently overlook the truth and hope that at any moment we can all be reborn."
"Life is a museum of small accidents."
"He felt they were like two halves of an apple that had never been cut."
Profile Image for Kelly.
878 reviews4,024 followers
January 10, 2008
This was a very quick, easy read. I wasn't hurrying or devouring the book, and I still finished it in two days. The stories and pages slip away very easily.

I'll start off with the things I like then, hmm?: there were some stories that did work for me. I really liked "Apples," about the Russian shoemaker who plants an orchard in Brooklyn to remember his daughter. I also really liked "Snow Falls and Disappears," which deals with love's abandonment and how a man deludes himself to go on properly. There were also certain lovely turns of phrase I enjoyed (i.e: "the train grieves into the station") that would every so often pop up in paragraphs and make me smile.

Those nice things being said...: I don't know about this book. I hate to do this, but this is one of those that really screams "potential" rather than a realized product. The stories themselves are perfectly nice, lovely, sweet. But no more than that, really. Some of them were just a bit cloying and "Chicken Soup for the Soul"-y for me. I felt like I'd read about half of them before, and he was really trying to emulate a style that just didn't quite touch me. I felt many of the stories were too light, and while simple construction can be heartbreaking, I just didn't feel it. There was a little too much cliche, a lot of really tired metaphors, a little too much cloy, a little too many repetitions of expression, and I don't think his writing level was consistent either. A really quality story would be followed by a throw away awful one. I just think most of these stories are the kind a professor would hand back and write with red pen across the top: "You're almost there, just a little bit more."

I also really wasn't sure about the author's message here. He seems to focus almost exclusively on love lost, love dead, love of ghosts and in one case, inanimate objects. Love lost always takes precedence over what happiness may be offered to the character, or what love they mention they have in the present. The joys of love /now/ are glossed over in favor of the endless and repeated descriptions of love that destroys people. In a book entitled "The Secret Lives of People in Love," I just expected a bit more variety of perspective, rather than "The Secret Lives of People Who Were In Love/Are In Love With Dead/Vacant Things." Also, really... did everyone have to get in some tragic accident or have some horrible illness that we spent half the story recounting? Come on now. You can do better than that. I think he could have found more and different kinds of stories than he did.

It just wasn't enough for me overall. Good idea though, Simon Van Booy.

Profile Image for Taylor.
291 reviews220 followers
November 4, 2014
An incredibly moving and touching collection of short stories, all about different kinds of love and its being tested.

Usually a story will incorporate several kinds of love - friendship, family, romance, and compare the two.

A rather large number of the stories show love overcoming some sort of obstacle - death, illness, etc., but somehow the tragedies that are at the heart of some of the shorts become more hopeful in the context of the love that supports and consoles them.

I actually cried quite a bit while reading this, sometimes out of sadness, sometimes out of happiness, sometimes out of its proximity to my own experiences - and I'm not usually effected by books enough to cry, so that says something.

It's not perfect - I would've liked a little less tragedy, perhaps, but it's perfectly charming and lovely, and the stories are quick so it could hypothetically be a quick read. It just took me awhile to read because sometimes I'd be so effected by a story that I'd want to think it over before moving onto the next.

Note to self: don't write potentially embarrassing things on the Internet.
Profile Image for Edita.
1,303 reviews393 followers
January 5, 2019
Without memory, he thought, man would be invincible.
Dreams are the unfinished wings of our souls.
It was in silence on the bench beside the bowling green that I knew I would never see Magda again, or that if I did, we would have evolved beyond reconciliation. Without words, we mutually allowed experience to swallow us whole. It was the only way forward. But her absence would haunt me […]
I think living with the absence of someone we love is like living in front of a mountain from which a person—a speck in the distance, on some distant ridge—is perpetually waving.
I have encountered thousands of people only once, but they carry a memory of me and everyone else—like sand on a beach, shaping the edge of a living world.
[…] but life just swallows you up, doesn’t it? Just swallows you up with its everyday things.
It’s tempting to imagine how we could hurt someone close, because it reminds us how fiercely we love them.
And so love passes, leaving only bits from which we must construct our lives.
Profile Image for Vishy.
668 reviews213 followers
December 16, 2012
I discovered Simon Van Booy’s ‘The Secret Lives of People In Love’ through a review of the book that I read. Reviewers raved about the book and it left an impression with me. I remembered it suddenly a few weeks back and so thought I will get his books – there are just three of them – and read them. This is the first of his books that I read.

‘The Secret Lives of People in Love’ is a collection of nineteen short stories. Most of them are about love and loss, sometimes about love regained. But mostly about loss. Most stories are between five and ten pages long, except for the last one which is twenty pages long. Simon Van Booy sculpts each sentence in each of his stories with lots of love and with the wisdom gained from all his life, like a master sculptor. Every story has many sentences which are very beautiful. Van Booy prose is spare with vivid images and metaphors. It is a pleasure to read. Reviewers raved about it. One of them said – “These stories have at once the solemnity of myth and the offhandedness of happenstance.” Another said – “Abandon your family, your children, and your friends; resign from your work and your voluntary engagements; let your dinner burn in the oven…and plunge into this book. Real life tastes plastic next to the words of Simon Van Booy.” I loved reading these reviewer’s comments as much as I loved reading Van Booy’s beautiful sentences.

For such a beautiful work of art, the book also had one problem. Many of the stories were a collection of beautiful sentences and images and metaphors. The story was there as an afterthought. Or it was not important. After I finished the first couple of stories, I felt this again and again – that the book was a collection of beautiful sentences and thoughts. But once in a while, the beauty seeped out of those glittering words and sentences and covered the whole story and the whole story glowed with that beauty – like a beautiful green meadow reflecting the sun’s light in a warm summer or a clear winter sky covered with glittering stars. Those stories were the best ones in the book and I read them more than once. My favourites out of these were :

Little Birds – It is about a young boy who is brought up by a man who is not his father and his thoughts on his life on his fifteenth birthday.

Where They Hide is a Mystery – It is about a young boy who has lost his mother and how this creates a distance between him and his father and how a chance meeting with a stranger helps him cope with his grief and get back to his father.

The Still But Falling World – This is about a young man who thinks about his life in his village when a strange girl arrives and introduces herself to his family as a long lost cousin of his and how there is more to her than meets the eye.

The Mute Ventriloquist – It is about how a young man loses and regains the love of a woman. It is also about the small things in life that bring happiness.

The edition of the book I read also had an extra section in which Van Booy talks about his life, his journey as a writer and shares his thoughts on the writing process.

If you like a book constructed out of beautiful sentences, you will love this book.

I will leave you with some of my favourite lines from the book.

This morning I woke up and was fifteen years old. Each year is like putting a new coat over all the old ones. Sometimes I reach into the pockets of my childhood and pull things out.

He stirred the tea until they were both silent – as though from its sugary bottom, something delicate had risen and usurped language.

Edgar drifted farther away from his father. They communicated through silence that flowed between them like a river. In the months that followed her death, the river widened, until Edgar’s father was a motionless speck in a wrinkled suit watching him, arms akimbo, from the opposite bank…By the time winter passed and the earth began to soften, the river of silence between Edgar and his father had become a sea – but it was not rough, nor did the tides bring news of change. Beneath the surface swam unsaid things.

In a child’s handwriting, language is exposed as the pained and crooked medium it really is.

In this village with its damp shoes and Sunday hymns, you are old the moment someone you love dies.

You might say that praying is useless if I don’t believe in God anymore, but let me tell you my opinion : praying for someone is a way to love them without ever having to know them.

I realized that it wasn’t God, the Devil, or death that terrified me – but the fact that everything continues on after, as though we’d never existed.

Serge was learning English slowly like an old man entering a sea. He enjoyed it because there were so many secrets entrenched within the meanings and in the pronunciation of each strange word. Like butterflies, new words flew from Serge’s mouth and fluttered about the classroom for everyone to admire.

She told me that love is when a person introduces you to yourself for the first time.

But Drake found nothing so strange about someone unable to find words for life. Children spend the mornings of their lives in a sea of imagination before being hauled out onto rocks by jealous adults who’ve forgotten how to swim.

Alzheimer’s is like having your entire life written out in chalk and then washed over by the sea at every tide.

He called them dreams because they happened at night, but they seemed too vivid to have been imagined. It was as though they were imagining him. That he was their dream.

When small drops began to fall and darken the world in penny-shaped circles, no one around him scurried for cover. For lonely people, rain is a chance to be touched.

Drake looked at the other drivers…and realized that anyone could be anyone’s father, that anyone could love anyone under certain circumstances, and that life is a museum of small accidents.

…the city of Brooklyn itself fell asleep and dreamed it was once a wild, deep forest where owls looked out from trees into windy plains.

Have you read Simon Van Booy’s ‘The Secret Lives of People In Love’? What do you think about it?
Profile Image for Erik Martinez.
149 reviews11 followers
January 16, 2020
sometimes i find a book and think “hm maybe god herself grabbed a book from the shelves of a heavenly library and placed it within my hands at a specific moment in my life.” if you’re going to read this, read it slowly and in the early mornings. maybe let sunlight fall on the pages! underline every line that takes your breath away. if you are obsessed with love, please read. please please read and hold my hand and talk to me abt it
Profile Image for Bernard O'Leary.
306 reviews59 followers
August 2, 2016
I walked alone through the streets of the city. It was Rome, or possibly Quebec. The details are not important. A bird flew overhead, drawing my eyes to the dark stormclouds. My soul was like that cloud.

Everywhere I looked, people had their heads in the same book. The Secret Lives of People in Love by Simon Van Booy. It brought back memories. Gerald. The jam jar. A stolen kiss. Such pain.

Then I saw her. Also reading the book, but her expression was strange. Different. I floated to her side, my feet not touching the ground.

"All we have in this life are the stories we tell ourselves," she whispered to me.

"These are not good stories," I replied sadly.

"And yet so many people seem to enjoy them. Look."

I looked. She spoke the truth, of course. How could a lie drop fall from such lips. All around us were souls wrapped up in this book. Even the judges of major literary awards seemed to think it was a masterpiece.

"Perhaps it is us who are wrong," she said.

"No," I replied beautifully. "This is a truth we share. A truth only known to us. A secret we keep in a biscuit tin under the boiler in a childhood house in which we did not grow up."

She fluttered her eyelids in a way that seemed to say, "this writing is so horribly overcooked, and yet so empty."

I sighed, and she understood that I meant yes, this is a book that probably seems profund to stupid people.

"It is like a collection of Coldplay B-sides," she entreated.

"It is like a gluten-free dreamcatcher from Etsy," I breathed.

"It is like Love Actually but rewritten by Paolo Coehlo and with all the jokes removed ," she grieved.

We walked the lonely streets, barely speaking as our souls silently entwined like a tentacle beast in a very sad and moving Anime movie.

She told me that she even found the writing hard to enjoy.

I agreed, and thought about how the writing often chased prosody into the land of the ridiculous.

She reminded me of all the jarring, pseudo-poetic metaphors. While she spoke, her lip quivered, like a sparrow on the roof of a rusted car in the spring before war comes.

We gazed across the street where we saw an elderly nun standing in a window. Her lined features were illuminated by the candle she held, as she slowly traced words with her finger in the condensation on the window.

Because I can read French or possibly Italian backwards, I could see what she was writing. It said:

"I was especially gobsmacked when we said something about gypsys in the '40s who "fled Hitler's murderous dream". Like, are you afraid that prose terms like Holocaust might upset your flow? Cause it sounds super glib."

We walked all night, each enveloped in the now-familiar musk of the other, a smellthat reminded me of the bread my mother used to bake whenever I fell and hurt my knee. Perhaps I reminded her of the same thing, she did not say.

And then, like a marionette whose string have been snapped by a cruel and drunken puppeteer, she fell to the ground and died.

I held her in my arms. The life leaked out of her. She was gone. Lost forever. Why? I looked to the heavens for an answer. I looked to the ground for an answer. I checked my pockets. I tried to Google but I had thrown my phone in the river earlier while feeling alienated.

An old man on a bicycle passed us. I looked at him through my tears.

"Kind sir," I said, "What is love?"

He smiled wisely and oldly.

"Love is the springtime moonlight that bounces off the rooftops of a sleeping village," he said, unhelpfully.
Profile Image for Kaloyana.
680 reviews2 followers
September 25, 2014
Мисля, че Simon Van Booy ще се окаже едно от откритията ми за тази година. Удивително писане! Отдавна не ми се беше случвало така да бъда погълната от писането на някого - толкова тихо, кротко, уютно, меланхолично, тъжно, тихо, мъчно, затрогващо, задушаващо, и все пак топло, уютно, красиво и мило и истинско и неподправено. Напомня ми за истории и хора, които съм преживяла и обичам или обичам да си спомням. Напомня ми защо съм такава, каквато съм.

И само искам да чета и още и още. Страхотен автор!

Жалко, че го няма преведен на български, за онези, които не четат английски. Бих подарявала постоянно тази книга, която може и да не е з�� любовта, но е за загубата и обичта и за загубата след обичта и за онази самота, която всеки, който живее и чувства, носи.

А бе, хубава е, много!

I want to do things for people they will never forget. Maybe that's the best I can do in life.

Without memory, he thought, man will be invincible.

He was not scared, because he felt that life had already done its worst.

... because even if you have loved once in your life, you're ruined.

I realized that since leaving Samantha, there was a part of me that had never stopped grieving.

Love reveals the beauty of seemingly trivial things - a pair of shoes, an empty wine glass, an open drawer, cracks on the avenue.

Photographs can fake happiness, but never grief.

My life is a letter with no address.

You are old the moment someone you love dies.

Living with the absence of someone we love is like living in front of a mountain from which a person - speck in the distance, on some distant ridge - is perpetually waving.

All seas lead to one home or another. Every path is the right one.

For some people, life is the process of knocking through walls to get out. For others, it is the building of walls.

By running away at least she would have the joy of knowing she was missed.

Night can unmoor so many feelings; it is a relief we sleep through it.

It's tempting to imagine how we could hurt someone close, because it reminds us how fiercely
we love them.

She told me that love is when a person introduces you to yourself for the first time.

Death ends a life but not a relationship.

I may not be normal, but I no longer worry about worrying, I just worry and know it's who I am.

Never admit you have obsessive-compulsive disorder to someone who doesn't have it, because they'll think you're crazy.

But then I don't see the point of truth anymore, it causes just as much heartbreak as lying.

Every moment is a beginning and an end.

I think most people in the world are decent if they are not suffering.

For lonely people, rain is a chance to be touched.

... that anyone could love anyone under certain circumstances, and that life is a museum of small accidents.

In some ways the ability to write is the opportunity to live forever, and to love forever.

Profile Image for Matthew.
101 reviews7 followers
August 29, 2015
Simon Van Booy is a genius. He has created a formula to write the perfect short story. It goes like this:

th/∞m = s

Tragedy times heartache over infinite metaphors equals story.

That's pretty much this book for you.

The problem is, while Van Booy's writing can be beautiful, he often writes in first person, which gives these characters an inauthentic voice that makes for a handful of incredibly unreliable (and unbelievable) narrators.

The French orphan who says, "the key to a good life is to gently overlook the truth and hope that any moment we can all be reborn?" I just don't buy it.

And that's the main problem with this collection, is that the characters don't sound like characters. They all sound like Van Booy. Luckily, the stories that are told in third person work much much better, as Van Booy's signature voice is able to detach itself from his characters.

The writing itself is not bad, by any means. But how many tragedies must these characters endure? How many tormented secrets must they reveal? And why in hell does everyone always speak in metaphor?

You'll find yourself asking these questions while reading this book. If you can get past those hurdles, you might just find a nice story or two. 2 stars.

Profile Image for Darlene.
370 reviews132 followers
October 16, 2011
I do not read many collections of short stories but this book was one of the most hauntingly beautiful books I have ever read. The stories in this collection are about love.... love between parents and children, between lovers,spouses and the love of families. Some stories are about the exuberance of love and some are about the agonizing rawness of love that is lost. But all of these stories are written so beautifully that even though I finished the book yesterday, I spent time today going back through and rereading passages that I found particularly stunning and ones that resonated with me. For example, in the story "The World Laughs in Flowers"....'We had spent only a few weeks together, five years ago, but when you finally meet the person who in daydreams you had sculpted without words, the transparency of time becomes the color of hair, and shapeless years become the shape of lips.'

Absolutely wonderful!
Profile Image for Andi M..
305 reviews176 followers
October 17, 2007
This book is simply breathtaking. It's a collection of short stories about regular people with mostly ordinary lives. Somehow Van Booy makes every simple detail come to live with his poetic writing and astute observations. If you read no other short stories this year, please give this book a go.
Profile Image for Reluctant Anesthetist .
41 reviews10 followers
December 15, 2015
Little Birds

My mother once told me that I was beautiful,that I had attractive features and bright eyes,that fair complexion was not the only criteria for beauty.I used to sign my diary as Ugly Duckling.I'd chuckled out of relief when my mother told me that.From that day on,I secretly believed that it took a certain artistic inclination to appreciate the beauty I had and the only reason I didn't get many compliments was because people were philistine and superficial.I didn't doubt my mother,never.Micheal told Peanut that his parents were the most handsome and gentle people one could imagine and one day he'd grow up to be like them..Words.Words crafted out of love.Words like little birds that stay with us and sing to us in our dark days.My little brother chuckled when I told him he was very,very beautiful.I wasn't lying.

Reappearance of Strawberries

He knew he was dying.He wanted to eat strawberries.He inhaled deeply to bury their scent in his lungs.

I'm a door away from her.She's watching TV.I hate the sound of shouting anchor persons and emo ads filtering through the closed door. (Ager kal ko ap apney bety ke fee ada na ker sakey,tou kia ye sahi hoga? Jublee Insurance). I know I'd want to smell guavas one day.She talks about her childhood days in great detail.She and her sister used to climb up on trees and eat unripe guavas in their orchard.I'd bite into unripe guavas one day, inhale deeply to bury their scent in my lungs,her memory,her words would be like a shaft of light,like that from a crack in the roof of a dark attic, to guide me down to my own end.

Where They Hide Is A Mystery

“The light from the stars takes so long to reach us that sometimes a star will have expired by the time we can see it,” the Indian man said.

“Some of these stars are dead?”

“Nothing dies in the way that we think, Edgar,” the Indian man said. “Perhaps what really matters is that they are so beautiful, whether they are still awake or not.”

This is one of the most beautiful idea I've read in this book.

They Bloomed in Darkness

My feet carried me mechanically up the dark narrow staircase.My room stood on the fourth and last floor of the hostel.There was a wailing infant,kicking,pumping it's weak limbs,helpless to remove its cause of misery,its cynotic face distorted in agony.It hit its own fragile head on the hard cold floor....breathless with crying,throat aching.Anguish.Incessant.Perpetual.That's what made up the backdrop of my mind in the spring if my twenty-fifth year.I carried the wailing infant with me everywhere,like an egg,hidden in the recesses of my brain.It hatched in solitude.The cries became shriller,the pain sharper,infant's expressions clearer,like the reflection
of my own face in the mirror.The wailing continued as my feet carried me up the deserted staircase.Suddenly,I stumbled over a step and fell,a cry,a jolt of pain over the knee,a broken toe-nail.The egg slipped down and broke.The wailing stopped.How silly of me.Real pain was
fugacious.Comes and goes.Just like that.It's the imaginary wailing that outlives the injury.

As he stepped into the street, he lost his footing and jarred his head against the ledge of the shopwindow. A few spots of blood appeared in the snow. Saboné bent down in awe. His very own blood lay before him. It had been inside him for almost four decades. It had passed through his body and lubricated his dreams. The object of his desires peered coldly from the window at the few drops.

it's the best collection of short stories i've ever read.
Profile Image for Derek Emerson.
383 reviews21 followers
May 16, 2010
I was so taken by Simon Van Booy's Love Begins in Winter that I decided to go to his first collection of stories, The Secret Lives of People in Love. As you can see, Van Booy likes love, which says quite a bit in today's world. This collection garnered praise and gathered fans, but it lacks the consistent strength of Winter. Many of these stories sound like an MFA student getting their bearings straight, and indeed Van Booy says that is when he wrote many of these (and won some awards). Some sound like typical slice-of-life scenarios looking for a big ending, and at times they work -- I'm just not too fond of this type of work.

Where Van Booy creates a unique voice is in his longer works. Winter really contains a couple of novellas, and in Secret Lives his slightly longer works offer more substance. "Where They Hide Is A Mystery" explores the life of a young boy whose mother dies and whose father grows more distant as a result. The somewhat stereotypic "wise Indian" character could be rewritten, but the story ends with a sense of hope which I like in Van Booy's work. So few writers today see any hope that it seems they are disconnected from the daily lives of most readers (and perhaps themselves). Van Booy sees potential in life.

One of the short stories that also accomplishes this is "Save as Many as You Ruin," which is one of the better titles I've seen in some time. Here we see someone quickly open himself to the possibility of happiness despite the tragedies he has experienced. That openness to happiness is a quality too few writers and people in general are open to.
Profile Image for LadyH39.
153 reviews2 followers
May 26, 2020
I’m finding it hard to know how to explain how I feel about this book! It started off really well, beautiful in fact. A couple of the stories had me tearing up as they were really touching and sad but then the stories just became boring and simply tedious i found. It’s such a shame as it had promise and i’m a soppy romantic but unfortunately this didn’t hit the spot for me....
Profile Image for Maxwell Frasher.
32 reviews1 follower
February 11, 2022
this book has some of the most beautifully minimal prose I’ve ever read. while a lot of symbols and imagery does reappear across many of the stories, they often take on different meanings, and there are so many striking and simple metaphors that feel new and fresh. he also uses short paragraphs which is a huge win because I love short paragraphs.
Profile Image for Malene.
345 reviews
April 17, 2018
A selection of beautifully written short stories. Certain details feature throughout...rain, birds, snow, Poland, music, slippers...each line is a poem in itself.
Profile Image for Steve.
529 reviews18 followers
June 8, 2020
Short stories – a dozen and a half that vary from very good to stunningly moving. The characters are different in each, but each one is quickly cared about. Those that strike home with you may well not be the ones that struck me, but I have no doubt that Van Booy will get to your heartstrings. His insights and figurative language are lovely: “I can hear the future getting into position, like shuffling actors on a stage before the curtain goes up.” I had to read it slowly because the stories often struck deep chords that spurred me to less intense reading between these. These are not the surprise ending stories some compose, more, brilliant vignettes.
Profile Image for Violette Stepaniuk.
21 reviews11 followers
June 10, 2016
What a beautiful, beautiful collection of stories. What makes it so beautiful, apart from Simon Van Booy’s wonderful storytelling ability, is the openness and the vulnerability of the lives revealed.

In the world where collecting likes, friends and connections by the hundreds has become the norm, The Secret Lives of People in Love is a welcome reminder of what it feels like to really get to know someone, to open up and share and dig deep. Like the title of the collection suggests, Van Booy reveals his characters from inside out, sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings, as well as painful and embarrassing experiences.

Some of the people we meet are strange or have strange things happen to them, like the lonely ticket booth attendant who gets lost in his fantasies, and is attracted to a mannequin in a shop window. Or, in one of my favourite stories, a boy who is left by his father to deal with the loss of his mother on his own, but who one day meets a stranger in the park – an angel perhaps – who gives him hope. There is something fairy-tale-like in the way Van Booy tells this story.

I also felt deeply for a homeless, mentally ill man who lives in an airport and prays for the wellbeing of the children he meets. When his illness takes over, to protect himself and others, he hides under a metal container in a shipping yard and waits out the violent attacks.

Having read two of his novels, I have come to expect Simon Van Booy to be a compassionate narrator. As strange as some of his characters and their lives are, we are never made to feel like voyeurs; instead, we are enriched by their vulnerability.

This wonderful volume of lives revealed reminds me of a passage I read in Thomas's Goodreads review of Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar:

“Talk to people. Even if the communication will be awkward, or vulnerable, or just straight-out uncomfortable, do it anyway. Ruminating endlessly on your own accomplishes little, and these scary conversations can often bring people closer.”

When was the last time you took a leap of faith and shared something with another person that made you feel vulnerable but also instantly brought the two of you closer? If you can’t remember try The Secret Lives for size and then maybe, just maybe…

and I wish I knew you”
― Ralph Fletcher, Room Enough For Love: The Complete Poems From I Am Wings And Buried Alive
Profile Image for Kristen.
651 reviews27 followers
September 16, 2008
I read this book as part of the Dangerous Reading Challenge
(http://dangerouslychallenge.blogspot....) and I thought I would read a couple stories yesterday and scatter the rest throughout the month. But! I started reading and could. not. stop. Seriously. I couldn't. I stayed up way past my bedtime and read all the stories last night. The whole time I was moving toward the end, I was begging myself to stop and savor all the stories. I devoured it all while wanting it to never end. This collection of short stories is fantastic. FANTASTIC. It is both romantic and bleak--often times both in the same story. The language choices are always appropriate and moving. Characters perfectly developed. And the flow between stories could not have been more smooth. I wish I could type in all the gems in this book but I'd be typing the entire collection.

Here is a sample of Van Booy's fantastic style:

A filthy homeless man is squatting with the American tourists and telling jokes in broken English. He is not looking at the girls' shaved legs but at the unfinished bottle of wine and sullen wedge of cheese. The Americans seem good-natured and pretend to laugh; I suppose the key to a good life is to gently overlook the truth and hope that at any moment we can all be reborn.

We walk arm in arm through twilight. Paris never gets too dark, because when natural light dissolves, you're never too far from a street lamp--and they're often beautiful--set upon tall black stalks, each lamp a glowing pair of white balls in love with its very own length of street. Sometimes, they all flicker to life at the same time, as if together they can hold off darkness.

Some daydreams seemed to want to swallow him up for good. Like wild horses, they would follow him in the day and then wander the plains of his dream life, but always upon him--until he would barely remember his own name.

Gabriel wonders how many people occupy one seat in a day, and if the seat could record the thoughts of the occupants, what it would say about human beings.
Profile Image for Finola.
7 reviews
April 15, 2013
Ok so this book literally changed my life! My boyfriend picked it when we were in The Strand in NYC because of the amazingly cute title and when he opened to a random page and started reading a random sentence I fell in love all over again, with him and the book!
This is the best book I have ever read in my lil life! Seriously, I read a section from it every day and will hopefully until I leave this place. I am completely and unequivocally in love with Mr. Booy's writing and if a book could be my soul mate this would be it.
I wish I had enough money to buy everyone in the world a copy of this book because it shows you the beauty in everyday things, and everyone should try and find beauty in everyday things.
Calling 'The secret lives of people in love' a book doesn't seem right to me, it feels like it's alive when you read it and will make you smile and cry and fall in love so many times before you finish.
I carry this book with me everywhere, and although it's looking old and tired I will never replace it with a new copy because the copy I have feels like the first and last book I have ever read.

Love Peppy
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