Since The Affairs of Others is a first-person narrative told through Celia’s point of view and with her observations and opinions, one’s enjoyment of the novel hinges on whether one finds Celia a credible narrator. A young, financially independent widow with sadomasochistic tendencies and a penchant for hiding from the world may cause some readers to cringe at the self-pity and self-imposed seclusion while also causing them to feel horrible for doing so. For Celia’s actions, especially regarding her behavior on the subway, have their roots in a tragic loss that Ms. Lloyd exquisitely captures, and readers will simultaneously wish Celia to snap out of her malaise and completely sympathize with her inability to work through her grief. It is a complicated reaction to an even more complicated scenario.
Confusing the situation even further is Hope’s arrival in Celia’s apartment and into her life. Hope’s behavior is equally disturbing and yet surprisingly understandable given the demise of her long-lived marriage. It takes no great stretch of one’s imagination to envision Hope’s guilt at the end of her marriage and need for self-flagellation in the form of an abusive relationship. Just like with Celia’s behavior, readers will find Hope’s equally repellent and refreshingly real. The dichotomies of feelings these characters create make The Affairs of Others a somewhat uncomfortable read.
Really, all of Celia’s tenants do generate the same contrasting emotions, while Hope and Celia create the strongest reactions. Chosen for their need for solitude as much as for Celia’s desire for a little supplemental income, they mirror Celia’s own need for isolation and her conflicting tendencies. This character-fueled novel is as much about coming to terms with the need for internal and external compromise as it is about overcoming and moving on from a tragic loss.
For all of the negativity within all of the characters but especially within Celia and Hope, the story ends on a surprising note of optimism and tenderness. If this understandably dismal group of individuals can heal and continue to live, then so can even the most desperate of readers. Their stories intertwine in unanticipated ways that soothe the disquiet that inhabits most of the story. For all a reader’s discomfiture through the novel, the sense of a new beginning that arrives at the end of the novel is not only a suitable ending, it is one that readers can appreciate more fully specifically because it is the end of a long and sometimes painful journey. Amy Grace Lloyd’s The Affairs of Others might not be a showy novel, but readers will find its quiet exploration of pain and loss satisfying.