The Life-Writer by David Constantine

Frank O' Connor Short Story Award winner David Constantine returns with new novel The Life-Writer

Book Review by Galen O'Hanlon | 02 Oct 2015
  • The Life Writer
Book title: The Life-Writer
Author: David Constantine

Katrin’s husband dies, and she decides to write his biography. It seems, at first, like a simple way through the grieving process: a task worthy of her academic mind, a continuation of her career as a biographer. It begins with the letters in the attic, and conversations with his friends. It is a way to remember him, to gather his stories.

But then it becomes much more. She begins to imagine her husband’s feelings, then to write little sketches, longer pieces. Soon she has conjured him, full of young passion and energy and love. She begins to think that he loved these other women more than he ever loved her, and once she has summoned the thought, it threatens to annihilate her. 

At the heart of Constantine’s work is a fascination with the past. In his hands the past is restless, ever-present. It is a living thing, a menace, threatening always to unbalance his characters. The man she discovers in the letters is different to the man she knew and that difference begins to unravel her memories of their relationship. It is a painful discovery and Constantine dissects her grief and obsession with signature precision. These things are captured in the details. There is a lasting image of Katrin, sitting at her desk, poring over the letters, wearing her husband’s jacket that still smells of him. It is a powerful, engaging novel, tying together grief, biography and translation – all the ways in which it is possible to articulate a life.

Out now, published by Comma Press, RRP £9.99