It may be surprising to hear that a book about someone embracing their asexuality can be as tender and affectionate as a love story. Alice Oseman’s Loveless not only proves this to be possible, but it is arguably a truer love story than many heterosexual romances out there.
The book is centred around Georgia, who moves to university desperate for the whirlwind romance that she’s always wanted, but can’t help wondering why she’s never had a crush on anyone in her whole life. University is a new start, where she can meet new people and maybe learn more about herself. Her quest to hopefully find her soulmate turns out to be more complicated than she had hoped as she starts to wonder if she was even destined to find love.
This already intimate novel is made more endearing by the fact that it is set here in Durham. I worried before starting the book that it would present a very superficial view of the university, but it becomes very clear that Oseman studied here and knows the city inside-out. The details she includes, from breakfast at Vennels to the Bailey Ball to the Assembly Rooms, paint a picture of Durham that is as vivid as the one we know. This makes for a very nostalgic read; particularly now, when the streets are empty and college bars are off the cards (let alone formals and balls), it is heart-warming to follow the story of a Durham first-year in pre-pandemic times.
Loveless addresses young relationships from a perspective that is rarely represented in the media. There is an ever-increasing emergence of queer stories being told, and while this is a wonderful, important thing, there is still a long way to go—particularly with the ‘A’ in LGBTQIA+. Asexuality and aromanticism, as pointed out in Loveless, are not terms you come across often, except for the very occasional minor character or butt of a joke. And in a world that is practically run by the ideals of a heteronormative life with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, where do you fit in when your sexuality doesn’t go with that ideal? This is crucially why Oseman’s book is so important; diversity in literature can be a lifeline for underrepresented people.
Understandably, this cause of deep-rooted unrest is not uncommon for those who don’t conform to these ideals. In Loveless, Georgia harbours unrequited love for love itself. At times, her words are laced with a pain that could only come from somewhere close to Oseman’s own experiences. It is indeed an own-voices story; she herself came to terms with her asexuality at university. There is a heartbreak in the novel that comes with realising that the dreams we build up for ourselves from societal pressure can sometimes never be our future, but there is equally hope in the dreams we place in their stead.
The experiences portrayed in Loveless, on a surface level, are not shared by many. However, the way that Oseman presents the unease of moving to university and facing three years stretching before you with no idea what they might hold is not a foreign feeling for most. Equally, it isn’t unusual to only truly understand yourself until you find a community of others with whom you can relate.
While Durham can feel like a straight, cis, white bubble, these communities are there for those who need them — I would particularly point out the Durham A Alliance (@AAllianceDurham on Facebook). Loveless beautifully yet brutally demonstrates the hard truth that the one of the first steps to self-acceptance is to surround yourself with those who will love you unconditionally. The definitive, powerful message that Oseman drives home in her novel is that ‘friendship can be just as intense, beautiful and endless as romance’.
The true love story of her characters is their friendship. Too often in books do we see romantic love as the be-all and end-all, with platonic love hardly touched upon, and perhaps this is why friendship is not thought of as its equal in value. The bonds that Georgia forms in Loveless are deep and sacred, and it is these connections that pave her own path to self-acceptance.
Illustration: Anna Kuptsova