Ever since her mother disappeared, leaving behind only a terse goodbye note, ten-year-old Louise Kirk has been a bottomless pit of desire. First she falls for Mrs. Richter, the immigrant woman down the street. Then, nine months later, her feelings shift to Mrs. Richter’s adopted son, Abel, and the two of them enter into a relationship that will introduce Louise to the extremes of joy and agony, but also allow her to learn the hard lesson that there isn’t just one way to love.

Instant National Bestseller in Canada (#1)
A U.K. Bestseller
A Globe and Mail Book of the Year
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
A Booksellers’ Choice in the UK
Finalist for the Canada Reads Reader’s Choice Award
Longlisted for The Man Booker Prize
Shortlisted for The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
A Trillium Book Award Finalist

critical acclaim

“Beautifully written. Gowdy has produced her most haunting and sensitive novel to date.
Publishers Weekly

“Barbara Gowdy is one of those rare writers you can never take for granted. You think you have her pegged as an intelligent and empathetic interpreter of grim domestic life and family dysfunction, as in her novel Falling Angels. Then she comes out with Mister Sandman, an outrageously strange and funny novel centering on the Canary family, and especially on the musical misfit Joan, who, as a result of being dropped on her head at birth, has never spoken. In a near complete change her equally captivating next novel, The White Bone, was the heartbreaking story of a tribe of African elephants, in which Gowdy insinuates readers into the hearts and minds of her non-human characters and offers a glossary of the language of elephants. So I began this talented Canadian writer’s newest novel with great anticipation. And I discovered to my immense pleasure that The Romantic, the story of a brilliant young man bent on self-destruction and the young woman who loves but cannot save him from himself, showcases all of Gowdy’s strengths: her evocative writing, her compassion for her characters and her insight into the fierceness of love and the pain of loss. This is an uncommonly fine novel. (I’m recommending it to everyone I know.) What a tribute to Gowdy that she just gets better and better with each work of fiction.”
The Seattle Times

“Pitch-perfect. Heartbreaking and compassionate…. Gowdy is a miraculous writer. The pages of The Romantic brim over with so much real life they practically breathe . From leafy Toronto suburbs and bat-filled caves to cramped city apartments and dingy offices, Gowdy chronicles Louise’s journey from yearning girl to desperate teenager to determinedly confused adult, crafting an undeniably sympathetic portrait. But Gowdy is equally brilliant with all the supporting players who struggle with their own loves and losses…. Gowdy’s refusal to tidy things up makes this exquisitely detailed novel all the more haunting and as unforgettable as anyone’s first— and most ecstatic—love.”
The Chicago Tribune

“Masterful narration that moves seamlessly back and forth in time. Gowdy gives readers insight into the difficult and extraordinary challenge of surviving maternal abandonment. She questions Louise’s needs as bald and raw, and in so doing, the unbearable path of Louise’s dilemma resonates deeply in readers.”
The Los Angeles Times

“Obsession knows no greater exponent than Louise, narrator and protagonist of this adroit novel that refuses to honor the claims of adulthood. Louise’s descriptions of her feelings for Abel are carefully constructed and, at times, flat-out beautiful. Gowdy has found a perfect vehicle for her peculiar talents.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Moving seamlessly between Louise’s childhood, her teen years, and her present, this novel is a sad, beautiful examination of a lonely woman and her attempts to find unconditional, unwavering love.”

“An emotionally wrenching story about everyday eccentrics.”
The Boston Globe

“Louise’s voice—and Gowdy’s prose—is lyrical yet matter-of-fact, as the author casts an unflinching yet sympathetic eye on Louise floundering about, striving to alternately love herself and make Abel love her by the sheer force of her need. Gowdy’s depiction of unrequited love and familial affection is a memorable one, because of the singular way she presents it, and because of its honesty.”
Providence, Rhode Island Journal

“Quite suddenly Canada’s female novelists are taking the literary world by storm. There was never any question about the extraordinary qualities of Carol Shields and Margaret Atwood, but now Barbara Gowdy has clearly joined them and her sixth novel underlines how she has matured. A heart-rending story of a sixteen-year love affair, it evokes the world of adolescent romance in the nineteen sixties. A story of abandonment and alcoholism, told with insight and warmth in the most exquisite prose, Gowdy’s new novel quietly casts a distinct spell. By the time it is over, you desperately want to start again. It is that good.”
The Daily Mail/UK

“In this beautifully-written novel, deeply felt but worked out with precision-steel technique, the romantic is Louise, constantly pondering two people she has loved and lost. Barbara Gowdy is a star in that bright Canadian galaxy of Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and the late Carol Shields. The Romantic, her sixth novel, is full of expertly timed cuts, flashbacks and reveries. She milks brilliantly the heart-rending power of domestic detail…. This is a sad but not depressing novel, all tender description and tough questions, vividly observant of adolescent agony. It suggests that healed survivors never forget, but also that the riddle of addiction, or any self-damaging choice, is the riddle of the Sphinx without a secret. There simply is no answer. For the survivor, storyteller or lover, the thing is how you fill that nothing with an accurate and kind interpretation of the person you have lost.”
The Independent

“Exceptional. Beautifully told. Gowdy never resorts to cliché or melodrama. Her writing is enthralling and seemingly effortless…. Barbara Gowdy’s books are like no others I’ve ever read. She is easily as good as the Canadian novelist Alice Munro and has the fluency and witty, twisted grace of the wonderful American writer Lorrie Moore. This book has moved her into a new field.”
The Daily Telegraph

“Barbara Gowdy’s specialty is dysfunctional families. That might not sound too promising, given that unhappy families contrary to Tolstoy’s oft-quoted assertion, are all alike, but this Canadian writer is gifted with a deliciously black wit and an ear for the quirks and tics of the unconventional. Gowdy’s compassion lights up even her most minor characters. Talented, witty and thoughtful.”
New Statesman, Book of the Week

“We read novels for the liberation of release or the comfort of recognition or the challenge of reason. Occasionally we stumble on a work that provides all three. This is one such novel and it is, in its own atmospheric way, a very beautiful and truthful book.”
The Independent on Sunday, Charlie Hill

“A clear-eyed, poetic account of how fucked up things can get when you fall in love with someone who can’t love you back. Doomed romance at its best.”
Time Out

The Romantic confirms Gowdy’s status as a leading novelist.”
The Sunday Times/UK

“Written with perceptive, sly humour and a lightness of touch that gives it the familiar ring of a classic song.”
The Guardian

“Perfectly constructed, wryly witty and unfailingly perceptive, Gowdy’s fifth novel is every bit as beautiful, clever, gentle and kind as its tragic hero.”
The Telegraph

“This is a book about love in its most brutal incarnation…. Gowdy’s portrayal is sympathetic and moving. The psychological underpinnings of Louise’s hunger are entirely intelligible, and we cringe in empathy as she fails to read the signs, feeds her obsession and walks straight into traps of her own making. It’s a masterful accomplishment to be able to convey the absence of something rather than its presence, as is the ability to explore heartache with skillfully avoiding melodrama. Gowdy accomplishes this through humour, but more profoundly by touching a nerve, the one that knows we’ve all been there, wanting, in one way or another.”
The Globe and Mail

“Louise’s actions or obsession suggest that true love doesn’t die or fade away, that some people are like swans and mate for life. These are powerful ideas that are rarely heard in modern literature but resonate deeply in a well-told story. An extraordinary achievement from a writer with several such achievements already to her credit.
The Edmonton Journal

“The sharpness of the prose remains, evidence of a sensibility both stinging and humane, the ear for dialogue, the sense of character, as well as Gowdy’s ability to create the occasional scene matchless for its pathos. Louise herself is a magnificent character. Her story conveys not only the sorrows of a childhood with hapless parents, but it conducts a fierce interrogation of what it means, in the face of every kind of loss, to be an adult.”
The Toronto Star

“In delicate, quietly lethal prose, Gowdy depicts love as both all-consuming and indiscriminate, as Louise’s twin quests for a surrogate parent and a soul mate become cruelly entwined. The girl’s heart-rending story shows that we are never more vulnerable than when we mistake fantasy for real life.”
Toronto Life Magazine

“The atmosphere of this novel brilliantly underscores the characters’ failing faith. The Romantic is a compelling rendition of how to survive as a clerk/typist in the heart of Toronto, with its poky flats in renovated houses, its seedy salesmanship and lonely weekends. The long subway rides, the strange neon chill that hangs over the city streets, bring to life the aura of a city that is certainly love’s most awful destination.”
The Calgary Herald

“Louise is a character so vibrant she threatens to balloon up and take over the book entirely, but as she did in the memorable Mister Sandman, Gowdy gives her supporting cast a chance to nudge in. In her tender accumulation of detail Gowdy captures what it is to love someone in a way so forceful it can’t possibly be returned…. A rich and mournful study in the way love works, and sometimes, ultimately, doesn’t.”
Quill & Quire

“Barbara Gowdy’s latest, The Romantic, is an altogether engaging novel, with memorable characters, an intriguing storyline and writing that is sometimes so beautiful it will make you weep…. A page turner.”
The National Post

“Elegiac. Reminiscent of the work of Alistair MacLeod and Margaret Atwood.”
The Winnipeg Free Press

“The long, obsessive romance at the centre of a universe of bizarre characters reminded me of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. Like a pleasant childhood memory, it’s something you’ll want to open and re-experience again and again. And like any memory, once recalled it can bust the dam and unleash a flood of other memories, and you may find yourself flipping through the book, looking for more moments than you had intended on bringing back. The Romantic is one of those books that remains on your night stand long after you’ve finished reading it.”
The Hamilton Spectator

“Louise’s huge, irrational love for Abel could have led to a big, operatic novel, but that isn’t Barbara Gowdy’s way. She takes her unworldly, underachieving characters through their paces with her usual dry understatement. She tackles the sad lives of Louise and Abel as if there was nothing unusual about them. That is her gift.”
University of Toronto Review

“Her new novel proves that a writer who can affect readers with unusual topics can also be stunning when telling a love story.”
FFWD Magazine

“A haunting story. As in Gowdy’s previous books, simple language combined with crisp storytelling and rich detail make for a compelling read.”
Monday Magazine

“Delightfully undiplomatic, determined, and odd Louise is unmistakably a descendant of previous Gowdy heroines. For so sad a book, The Romantic is also reassuringly buoyant.”
The Georgia Straight

“God, it is said, is in the details. In Barbara Gowdy’s writing, however, it’s the Angel of Love who exists in the minutiae, in the carefully chronicled lives of those lost in the thrall of love: human or animal, familial or sexual, perverse or romantic…. Gowdy forces the reader to look beyond clichéd climactic points and to fully explore the textures of a closely observed life.”
The Vancouver Sun