It’s an absolute pleasure today to share my review of The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech, published as an e-book by Orenda Books on 15th July, with the paperback to follow on 30th September. I was so looking forward to this one, having been enthralled and spellbound by How To Be Brave (you’ll find my review here) and equally so by the very different The Mountain In My Shoe (review here). Contrary to popular belief – do read my review again here – I did enjoy Maria in the Moon too, although I’ll admit that I maybe struggled a little with its harder edges. But this one – well, I just knew I’d love it even before I’d read the opening pages.
Be careful what you wish for…
Long ago, Andrew made a childhood wish, and kept it in a silver box. When it finally comes true, he wishes he hadn’t…
Long ago, Ben made a promise and he had a dream: to travel to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally makes it, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…
Ben and Andrew keep meeting in unexpected places, and the intense relationship that develops seems to be guided by fate. Or is it?
What if the very thing that draws them together is tainted by past secrets that threaten everything?
A dark, consuming drama that shifts from Zimbabwe to England, and then back into the past, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a devastatingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart…
Setting aside the description of the “devastatingly beautiful love story”, guaranteed to draw me in whoever the author might be, I want to pause a moment and look at this book’s quite perfect cover. Although I read on kindle, I do have an early paperback copy (with thanks to Karen at Orenda Books), and it’s simply stunning – the colours, the simple image of the wish box, the perfectly chosen endorsements. If you’ve never read a book by Louise Beech before, the comparison with early Maggie O’Farrell might just surprise you – but when you read this wonderful book, I’m certain you’ll agree that it’s totally justified.
The writing is exquisite – every word carefully chosen, capturing the open skies of Africa with the same ease and beauty as those small moments within an intense relationship or in an East Yorkshire kitchen. The author has always had the ability to make you care about and feel deeply for her characters, a deft touch in writing about emotions and relationships – but with this book, I felt she’d moved into a different league, every twist and turn of the relationships building an ache within you. This book totally and completely broke my heart – but I loved every single moment.
The book’s structure is so cleverly done: the story starts in the middle, what went before slowly revealed, heartbreaking in its intensity, then moving forward into the present and future, each chapter introduced by a short extract from Andrew’s book. I’ll resist any temptation to tell the story – the cover description is enough – but I will say that it sears itself into your heart and soul. There were times when it had me seething with anger, at other times laughing at its joyfulness, then I found myself crying helplessly over a small moment that tore at my heart.
The African experience is totally all-consuming – those reflective moments watching the sun rise, the stunning descriptions that make you feel the stifling heat and the dust in your throat, the enthralling account of working with the lions and the attempts to build relationships in the dark silence of the night. I loved the small things – the touching humour around the mis-words, the whole idea of the wish box. And I equally loved the large things – the difficult family relationships, the devastating moments around which the story turns. And while this book certainly made me feel deeply, it also made me think – about the context for Ben and Andrew’s relationship, the way the world perceives them and affects their behaviour and ability to show their love. Ben’s father encapsulates it at its very worst – but there’s a simultaneous complexity and simplicity about him that makes him a compelling character and presence.
I’ve always said that How To Be Brave was secretly my favourite of Louise Beech’s books – but I’m really not so sure any more. This book was total perfection, beautiful, breath-taking, heartbreaking, and one of the very best books I’ve read this – or any other – year.
About the author
Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. Her next book, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Maria in the Moon was compared to Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine, and widely reviewed. All three books have been number one on Kindle, Audible and Kobo in USA/UK/AU.
She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.