Out of Love is the debut novel of Hazel Hayes, Irish director and screenwriter, who found fame on YouTube through her short films, her interview series ‘Tipsy Talk’, and her sincere video style. The brief ‘About the Author’ section that precedes the novel asks Hayes why she made the leap from the horror genre that her films are centred in, to romance: she replies that ‘she can think of nothing more horrific than love’. It is this sentiment that leads readers into this bittersweet account of what it is to love and be loved in modern life.
Lauded as an ‘autopsy of a broken heart’, Out of Love could be deemed as maintaining a familiar formula since it follows an unnamed narrator, as she navigates a relationship with her boyfriend, Theo. However, this book takes a unique perspective by following her story in reverse. The novel opens at the end of the relationship, each chapter travelling further back through moments of joy and grief, exploring the depths of love frankly but affectionately.
The narration is from someone hopeful despite her hurting, and never reads as jaded or bitter – though one might expect it to, given that the book is essentially about the collapse of a romance. The central relationship, once tenderly intimate but now faded and imploding, serves as an exploration of what quality of love we as individuals allow for ourselves. Hayes’ post-modern approach to the narrative is engrossing, unfolding almost like a mystery as actions in an early chapter are explained by the events of a later one.
The magnificence of Out of Love is in its weaving together of several forms of love
The novel is rife with symbolism, demonstrating the skill of an author adept at writing for the screen and utilising visual clues. A stand-out example of this comes at the end of the second chapter, as the narrator scrambles to save her pot plants much to the chagrin of Theo. It is these subtleties that make the fact that this is Hayes’ debut novel all the more impressive.
Whilst the main thread of the narrative is the course of a romantic love, in all its intricacies, the magnificence of Out of Love is in its weaving together of several forms of love. There is love between family: the relationship between the narrator and her mother is full of unconditional devotion, regardless of a struggle to entirely understand each other at times. They are slightly smudged reflections of one another.
Coupled with this love for the family is the narrator’s love for home: the warm familiarity with which she describes not only her mother’s home, but Ireland in general is comforting, tinged with nostalgia for a childhood sense of belonging. Hayes writes about Ireland in such a way that the memories of her protagonist would feel familiar to anyone. She describes the coastline, the clear air, Dublin landmarks and even the rain with such fondness.
The platonic relationships within Out of Love are also illustrated lovingly. The novel details several friendships between women who lift each other up and, refreshingly, encourage positive change.
Out of Love is a poignant story of loss and love that is as full of optimism as it is of heartbreak
The most significant type of love within the novel is love of the self. Hayes leads readers backwards through the narrator’s journey in learning about her own brain and emotions: she has just as much of a turbulent relationship with herself as she does with Theo. The sections focused on therapy, anxiety and general mental health are some of the strongest of the novel – issues are not solved in one chapter or one therapy session, but instead pepper the narrative and keep it firmly grounded in reality.
The same can be said about the narrator’s developing knowledge of her own sexuality, providing a rare example of a book in which an LGBTQ+ character’s sexual identity is explored without being the only developed element of their personality. By the end of the novel, closing on a moment that is quietly, tragically hopeful, this nameless narrator is so familiar that it is difficult to let her go – like breaking up with someone you’re still in love with.
Out of Love is a poignant story of loss and love that is as full of optimism as it is of heartbreak. Hayes crafts an unapologetic portrayal of modern relationships formed by people simply wanting to be understood, but who are yet to understand what that means.
Those who have loved, those who have lost and those who have done neither: Out of Love will break your heart and mend it again.