This kind of thing is a little unusual for me, for a couple of reasons. First and most obviously, I don’t typically post book reviews on here, though perhaps it is something I will begin to do occasionally.
Second, this particular book – a novel called ‘Love vs Honour’ – was written by someone I know and speak to on a regular basis. I’m being honest about that because, while I have tried to judge the book in as objective a manner as possible, I cannot know for sure how much my thoughts and overall opinion on it have been influenced by my personal knowledge of said individual. Usually I would, for obvious reasons related to my own integrity, steer clear of reviewing a product in such a case. I’m passionate in my belief that any reviewer who finds themselves in a situation where they may hold back from being as open and honest as possible regarding the information they provide about a product (in order to, say, try and boost sales as ‘a favour’ to someone else, or equally to criticise it simply because they do not like the author personally), should really not be reviewing that product at all.
However, I am making an exception in this case partly because of the nature of the subject matter, and also because I do not believe I am breaking the aforementioned principles by doing so. I have approached this book as honestly as I could, though I share the above information with you so that you can judge for yourself. That is, after all, the essence of what reviews are about: giving you the information you need to make an informed decision, and that includes any hint of bias on the part of the reviewer. You may indeed, in the end, think of me as biased, and should you form that opinion, then I am at least satisfied that I shared the information with you necessary to do so.
On to the book itself then. Love vs Honour (by Simon Dillon) follows a Christian guy and a Muslim girl, who meet and find themselves promptly falling in love, though interestingly without the usual romantic hyperbole that typically goes along with that. The characters are in love, but it feels real and authentic, rather than some fantastical fairy tale story. Obviously their respective beliefs present certain difficulties, if not between them, then certainly when it comes to their families who, to varying extents, seem to be caught up in the dogma and vitriol of their religions. To the point where Johnny and Sabina, the two main characters about whom we now speak, feel they cannot tell their parents about their feelings for each other, as it becomes apparent on both sides that this sense of love is the crucial element missing from their family lives – at least on the surface.
Against this backdrop their love quickly blossoms, and the fact that it feels so real is crucial – because they’re soon planning to deceive each other’s families in order to keep in touch beyond the weekend on which they met. For this to happen, one might think their own conviction to their religions would have to be somewhat in question (as a ‘good Muslim’ or a ‘good Christian’ would presumably not go along with such a deceptive scheme), and it is. This is exasperated, if not caused by the fact that they are in love, which is a feeling that neither of them have so far experienced within their respective belief patterns and is, therefore, perceived as more powerful than either of them. This becomes a theme played on throughout the novel, as the difficult situations they face eventually extend beyond the boundaries of their relationship.
Though the book handles its love story well, that is not, for me, its greatest strength. Nor is some of its early dialogue and character development, which I frankly found to be a little awkward. Rather, this is a novel most impressive in its overall accessibility. Romance is not typically my chosen genre to read, but the book does not rigidly define itself in this way.
Likewise, while it offers balanced and fair portrayals of both Christianity and Islam, it does not openly take a stance on either – instead presenting the facts and opinions of the characters within its narrative who do hold those beliefs, and letting the reader decide for themselves. Or not, if they so wish. The book does not hold you captive with an agenda of its own, even if a slight bias towards one of its two religions can be seen when observing the story as a whole. Its overriding message is one that I believe will be felt by anyone with natural human empathy, regardless of your personal beliefs – it does not forcibly attach such sentiment to a particular religion, even if there are understandable hints towards the author’s own convictions.
This honesty and open-mindedness in the novel’s storytelling is the main reason I wanted to highlight it here on this blog. Frankly I find this to be a rare thing in stories told by authors with certain religious convictions – they often use this form of art as little more than a propaganda tool, rather than enjoy it for what it’s meant to be. It is possible to have a strong message in your work and not force it down your reader’s throat, or feel that you must trick them into accepting that belief themselves. Too many Christian stories (I can recall a couple of semi-mainstream movies that recently did such a thing) present a manufactured, often sugar-coated version of their belief system in order to portray a narrative that is not entirely honest with itself, let alone the rest of the world. Christianity is not a perfect ‘religion’, nor does it know all the right answers, even though it follows a perfect man who did.
Even should you find yourself disagreeing with me on those finer points, I think this book will be an enjoyable and eye-opening read from whichever stance you take. If you couldn’t care less about that side of things and are instead interested in a decent love story, the novel delivers on that as well – just don’t come expecting a masterpiece that will change how you view the genre.
It’s not a long book either, less than 300 pages, and is very nicely paced so it won’t take you long getting through it. Frankly it is also cheap enough to be worth a second thought, even if you have your doubts as to whether it’s for you. In my case I didn’t think it would have resonated quite the way it did, but then again, one could argue I initially felt compelled to stick with it due to reasons mentioned above.
You can download the Kindle version of the novel here. Also available in paperback.