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I find myself once again sat on a bus wondering whether the other passengers have noticed the tears welling up in my eyes. Hopefully, they are too absorbed in their own thoughts, companions and mobile phones to have any time for a fellow passenger turning the pages of a book, occasionally wiping away the blurry dampness, finally closing the cover and sitting back.

Louise Beech’s first novel How to be Brave was published in 2015 and her fifth will be published in April 2019, the stories seem to flow from her but the quantity and regularity of her output in no way lessens its quality or impact. Maybe they have all been dwelling inside their author all along, jostling for position, waiting for freedom, for someone to release them from the safety of their compound into the wild.

“I had written four of my books when How to be Brave got me my book deal. I’d already written Mountain, Maria and Lion Tamer. I did edit them a lot after Brave, but they were there. Then in 2017 I wrote my fifth one, Call Me Star Girl. I guess, yes, that had been simmering there. I had for a long time thought I’d set a book in a radio station as I’ve spent a lot of time in them as guest presenter, and always thought what a claustrophobic and spooky setting it could make.”

Louise writes with such emotional integrity that her characters transcend the fiction as you share their stories, recognising their wounds in yourself and the people around you. She tells stories that break your heart, but she does it so exquisitely that you do not want her to stop, the pain paradoxically fuelling joy. Our existence is a mysterious tragedy. There is no life without death, no wonder without suffering, but when we accept our place in that cycle, somehow, we can hold the two together and live.

“Writing is healing for me. It soothes and comforts me to write. I find my own healing there. I guess I mend after a broken childhood/early adulthood. If you witness painful things, perhaps you have a natural empathy when exploring them? I do love humans. As a whole. Have great hope in them! So maybe that is why there’s always positivity there?”

And there is the crux. Hope is what sustains us and somehow when we lay ourselves bare, when we open ourselves to be vulnerable to the inescapable pain of life we find it, or at least we do if we have company. Is that ultimately our purpose? To be good companions, navigating the miracle and tragedy of being alive, together. If so, then Louise’s novels can help guide us.

“I do gravitate towards writing about pain/difficult things. I’m not afraid to explore any topic. This is why, despite jumping genres it would seem, I’m not a genre writer. I hate boundaries/rules/confines. I write what I have to. And I love every minute of it.”

The Lion Tamer Who Lost captures all of this. It is the story of Ben and Andrew, an enviable love but an impossible one.

Synopsis

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.

The Author

Louise Beech is an exceptional literary talent, whose debut novel How To Be Brave was a Guardian Readers’ Choice for 2015. The follow-up, The Mountain in My Shoe was shortlisted for Not the Booker Prize. Both of her previous books Maria in the Moon and The Lion Tamer Who Lost were widely reviewed, critically acclaimed and number-one bestsellers on Kindle. The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the RNA Most Popular Romantic Novel Award in 2019. 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. Louise lives with her husband on the outskirts of Hull, and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012.

The Lion Tamer Who Lost is available now.

Thank you to Louise Beech for answering my questions for this review, included in quotation marks above.