Break.up by Joanna Walsh

Joanna Walsh’s genre-defying novel mixes travelogue with the story of an online relationship

Book Review by Laura Waddell | 11 Apr 2018
Book title: Break.up
Author: Joanna Walsh

“Love is also the texture of its communication,” writes Joanna Walsh in Break.up, a novel where the narrator – a writer, named Joanna – mourns the end of a mostly online relationship that was never consummated while travelling around Europe, taking trains between cities and sleeping in spare rooms of friends of friends. Accessing wifi in stations, she looks for new messages as they grow increasingly infrequent, describing the emotional jolt “like an airplane taking off” when a new one appears and how digital mail doesn’t grow ragged around the edges with re-reading. Occasionally, as a traveller, she grows tired, and street signs in unfamiliar languages “crunch into triangles, polygons.”

Can lovers reach an end if they never really started, in a relationship that was not exactly a relationship but definitely something? Facing up to any kind of end is luxuriously and agonisingly postponed while the narrator traverses cities, mapping her love, or fixation, on to them, sometimes imagining she sees her love object in this stranger or that in the distance. Flâneuse-style, there are intelligent segues along the way. In Sofia, she considers what it means to be bored; in Budapest, she muses on aging. This is a novel about the edges of things and where they rub up against each other. In Break.up, Walsh explores what it is to live a digital and analogue existence simultaneously without degrading one or the other in comparing them, and the philosophical quandaries particular to multifaceted existence. 

Tuskar Rock Press, 19 Apr, £12.99