I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
About The Book
Sebastian James Murphy is twenty years, six months and two days old. He loves swimming, fried eggs and Billy Ocean. Sebastian is autistic. And lonely. Veronica wants her son Sebastian to be happy, and she wants the world to accept him for who he is. She is also thinking about paying a professional to give him what he desperately wants.
Violetta is a high-class escort, who steps out into the night thinking only of money. Of her nursing degree. Paying for her dad’s care. Getting through the dark.
When these three lives collide, and intertwine in unexpected ways, everything changes. For everyone.
This Is How We Are Human by Louise Beech is an absolutely beautiful and eloquent novel of great tenderness. It is about Sebastian, a young autistic man, his mother, Veronica and Isabelle who is a student nurse by day and a high class escort by night.
Veronica, a widow, has raised Sebastian alone for some time, she is both incredibly wealthy and incredibly lonely. Sebastian is her whole life, she cares for him, takes him to his swimming lessons and works had to make the world an easier place for him to live in.
Isabelle is training as a nurse but her head is full of worries for her father who is ill and requires expensive care, care which a student nurse’s salary won’t stretch to. Unable to see any other way she signs up with an escorting agency to make ends meet and using the pseudonym of Violetta she meets with men and often finds herself in difficult and precarious situations.
At age twenty, Sebastian has natural sexual urges, but is unable to act upon them, causing distress and frustration. He talks about having sex frequently and, not understanding boundaries, gets himself into trouble. When Veronica takes Sebastian to a sex therapist for help, they meet Isabelle who is there as part of her training rotation. Despite the sex therapist being as much use as a chocolate teapot, Isabelle strikes up a bond with Sebastian, immediately finding a way to communicate with him without patronising or condescending him.
Increasingly desperate, Veronica turns to the internet and discovers Violetta’s profile online and recognising her as the young, warm and kind nurse who bonded with Sebastian she decides to engage her services. What could be smutty or titillating in the hands of a less capable author, becomes an emotionally investing read of great depth. Beech’s writing is tender and sensitive and, despite the subject matter being difficult it never feels mawkish or voyeuristic.
All three characters are wonderfully drawn, but Sebastian is one of the best characters I have ever read. It would have been easy to write him as somebody you feel sorry for, but he is written so well that his autism feels like the least important thing about him. He is one of those characters who you immediately fall in love with. He is complex, funny and insightful and we are privy to every part of him with Beech showing both the light and dark.
The author’s notes reveal that Sebastian and Veronica are based upon Beech’s friend Fiona and her son Sean, a twenty year old autistic man. Sebastian’s voice rings as clear as a bell in this novel and it is obvious that Sean and Fiona are on every page and have heavily influenced the tone of the novel. It is a beautiful and respectful ode to issues which, to my shame, I knew very little about. I think one of the things which affected me the most was how difficult it is to be the advocate of somebody with complex emotional needs. It is clear that help isn’t always available and that doors are often closed. It must be exhausting to be the person the buck stops with and the emotional and mental toil must be huge.
I love that Beech is unafraid to write about things like this. The subject matter will provoke discussion but it highlights some hugely important themes about our society, about how we treat others and how there is always, always hope.
About 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 2019 novel Call Me Star Girl won Best magazine Book of the Year, and was followed by I Am Dust.
Where You Can Buy It
My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for sending me a copy of the book and to Anne Cater of Random Tours for an invitation to join the Blog Tour.