The Art of Preserving Love by Ada Langton

‘Edie had a plan. She’d written it in her notebook and once something was written in her notebook, Edie knew it would happen.’

This novel opens in Ballarat, on Sunday 5 November 1905. Edie Cottingham is 19 years old, living with her parents. While some of the local gossips consider Edie too outspoken, too modern and too stubborn to get a husband, Edie’s plan is to marry Theo Hooley. Theo plays the organ at the church Edie and her family attend. He’s a quiet man, a veteran of the Boer War. Edie and Theo form an understanding, and Theo will visit the Cottingham home to ask Paul Cottingham for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Theo’s mother, Lilly, is delighted.

But Edie’s mother dies, leaving Paul with a new daughter, Gracie, and Edie with a new set of responsibilities. How can Edie marry Theo, and leave?

Theo is patient. He’s prepared to wait for Edie. Every Sunday at three, he calls on Edie, with a rose. Every Sunday, Edie refuse to walk around the lake with him. Every Sunday, Theo decides to wait longer. Many in the town are fascinated. How long will Theo wait? Will Edie change her mind as Gracie becomes older? It seems like Theo is prepared to wait for ever. But Theo and Edie are not the only characters in this novel and theirs are not the only stories to be told. Lives are about to be changed, first by an unexpected event and then by the onset of the Great War.

This novel spans the period from 1905 to 1924, and the story will take some unexpected turns. Beth, the Cottingham’s maidservant will make several critical decisions, and Gracie will continue to charm everyone with her delightful smile. Theo will leave Australia to fight in the Great War, other characters will enter the story.

This is not a typical romance, although there are certainly romantic elements. Patience is a central theme, as is a sense of duty and family obligation. The world changes in many ways during and after the Great War and people change as well.

‘A week could be a very long time. It could take from one Sunday afternoon to the following Saturday and a whole life could be lived in the middle.’

There are so many components to this story, so many pieces that fit together. I’m finding it difficult to assemble the right words to do the novel justice. At times I was frustrated by decisions made, by inaction (so often followed by dutiful reaction) that I thought I’d stop reading. Then an image would take and hold my attention, or there’d be a reminder of life in regional centres when two of my grandparents were of a similar age to Edie. And once again I’d be swept up in the novel. Just when I thought I’d worked it out, there’s be another twist to negotiate.

This is by no means a straightforward romance, but it is an interesting (if at times frustrating) and ultimately rewarding read.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith