Love and the Art of War – Dinah Lee Küng

What a fun premise: Meek librarian discovers her beloved husband might be having an affair and reacts in the only way she is equipped for: signs up for a local seminar. However, though she signs up for “Mending Marriage or Decent Divorce” in 96F, she winds up in “The Warlord Way to Waging Profit” (or “China’s Military Genius for Maximizing Management”) in 96E. She starts to leave – but if she leaves, the class will not have enough students to continue; the professor works his wiles on her to convince her the class could be useful to her.

‘Well, I’m trying to keep a family united, not all of China.’
Professor Baldwin took a deep breath. ‘But all of Cathay isn’t as important to you as that family.’

And she stays. And as the weeks go by, as the rest of the class applies the tenets of Sun Tzu to their business affairs and she does her best to apply them to her husband’s affair, things change. Jane changes.

I love a good turn of phrase, and I’m as guilty as just about anyone of overusing metaphor and simile in my own writing. But Love and the Art of War takes it to a whole ‘nother level. A hefty percentage of the lines in <I>Love and the Art of War</I> are witty – and, every now and then, perhaps a shade too witty. But the majority made me smile, either with my lips or in my head (“Joe’s career at the BBC was still afloat, in a drowning-not-waving sort of way.”), so I’m fine with living with the occasional over-reaching clunker.

At the heart of the book is books; I wanted more.

Books had saved Jane from the miseries of her own teenage years…

Cover of "The Art of War (History and War...

All the more precious to Jane then, when a tiny borrower, having tumbled to the promise of exiting the library with an armful of free picture books, queued between the DVD-toting teens and clucking pensioners.
At such moments, Jane whispered to Chris, ‘One more little soul saved from the pixels.’
– ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ – ~ –
Rupert lived in a narrow book-lined house overlooking the heath. John Le Carre once lived nearby. Jane liked to pigeonhole London’s nooks and crannies with the delicious knowledge that had she dared, she could knock on a particular author’s front door and one of their characters would answer. You could even play the game on nearby Chalcot Square. Knock on Number 3 and Sylvia Plath’s ghost peered through the front window. Stroll a few metres southward toward Frederick Forsyth’s old digs and bump into the Jackal cleaning his gun in his dressing gown. London was full of authors, the dead ones commemorated by blue plaques for mere civilian readers, but still breathing for a librarian. The whole world around Jane shimmered with invisible dimensions, angles, and parallel realities created by writers.

I would have loved a lot more of that, and of Jane’s integration of <I>The Art of War</I> into her life. It was brilliant, and I loved it. I loved the whole first half of the book.

What I didn’t particularly want was the terrorism plot that began to gain more and more prominence in the story. It was a shift in the focus of the book that jangled, in discord, against the rest; it was as though a story that started out as a smart and funny and thoughtful rom-com suddenly wanted to be shelved in Action!Adventure! It all came together in the end – an end I didn’t entirely expect, but was glad of – but it was rocky there for a little while.

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