The extraordinary thing about Characters of Love is not the ingredients – a virgin, an absent father, an unreliable lover and a sprinkling of nervous breakdowns – but the way in which Susie Boyt combines them.
Having abandoned her as a baby, Nell’s psychiatrist father reappears on her tenth birthday, presents her with ‘the sort of dress that a rich person’s doll would wear’ and starts taking her out once a week and stuffing her with cream cakes until she is sick. No sooner has she decided that her ‘heart belongs to daddy’ than he moves to America. Bi-annual postcards follow.
After a fatherless adolescence, Nell arrives in Oxford and falls for the tortured, intellectual allure of her English tutor, Marnie. A brief period of domestic bliss ensues – ‘he stroked her hair while they waited for the teas maid to come to the boil’ – broken only when the prettiest