“Hazel Hayes writes with such honesty and casual confidence and flowing dialogue, you feel you are overhearing it rather than reading it. The writing sparkles with wit and a poignant emotional reality. I love it.”—Matt Haig, bestselling author of The Midnight Library
“A smart, touching, time-bending romance. Funny and affecting.”—David Nicholls, bestselling author of One Day and Sweet Sorrow
For anyone who has loved and lost, and lived to tell the tale, this gorgeously written debut is a love story told in reverse, a modern novel with the heart of a classic: truthful, tragic, and ultimately full of hope.
Out of Love begins at the end. A couple call it quits after nearly five years, and while holding a box of her ex-boyfriend’s belongings, the young woman wonders: How could they have spent so long together? When did they fall out of love? Were there good times before the bad? These are the questions we obsess over when a relationship ends, even when obsessing can do no good. But instead of moving forward through the emotional fallout of a break-up, Out of Love moves backward in time, weaving together an already unraveled tapestry, from tragic ending to magical first kiss. Each chapter jumps further into the past, mining their history for the days and details that might help us understand love; how it happens and why it sometimes falls apart.
Readers of Normal People; Goodbye, Vitamin; and One Day will adore this bittersweet romance, a sparkling debut that you won’t want to miss.
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Read an Excerpt
"Cup of tea?"
I've asked him this a hundred times before. I ask it now, casually, as though nothing has changed. As though this time is the same as all the others. But before the words have even left my mouth I think, That's the last time you'll ever ask him that question.
I know it's true too. Because all this "let's be friends" stuff is bullshit. Theo has no intention of being my friend; that's just something he's been saying to make it easier-not for me, of course, but for him.
He asked if we could have a break but what he meant was a breakup. He moved most of his stuff out of our apartment while I was home in Dublin, crying on my mother's sofa. He stopped loving me a long time ago but wasn't brave enough to tell me. And so our relationship kept trundling forward like a wagon down a dirt road, with me tied to the back like a rag doll. I imagine myself bouncing about in the dust, with a stitched-on smile and vacant eyes, just happy the rope is holding. The image is so morbidly funny that I have to conceal a grin.
"Sure. Thanks," says Theo.
Go fuck yourself, I think, in response to his perfectly reasonable answer to my question. This is going to be interesting.
As I fill the kettle I can sense him start to notice his surroundings."The place looks great," he says. He's not being facetious. It does. I redecorated.
In the two months since he left, I've found it increasingly easy to accept that this is no longer our apartment; it is my apartment. The things that once served as comforting reminders of him have now grown alien and unwanted, which is why I want them all gone.
The first thing I did was dismantle the photo wall-dozens of pictures of us hung from rows of twine with miniature wooden pegs-my first and only attempt at being the kind of woman who is crafty around the house. As I took the pictures down and placed them in a shoebox (I wasn't quite ready to throw them away), I noted how smug we seemed in each one: big, stupid smiles, cheeks pressed together, arms around waists. Here we were at a music festival. And here, outside the gates of Buckingham Palace. In one photo we were lying half-naked on a beach with the Pacific Ocean stretching out behind us. I remember how Theo splashed me with the icy water, bringing my skin out in goose pimples and making me shriek with laughter.
None of the photos were recent; most were taken early on in our relationship, when Theo would capture me in random, mundane moments-snuggled up on the sofa or laughing with friends. I used to love how he would take my picture unprompted, and not just on special occasions, like this candid of me, standing on the Ha'penny Bridge in the snow, looking back over my shoulder at him.
The last photo I took down was a Polaroid Theo took of me just a few days into what would become our five years together. In it, I'm lying in his bed half-asleep, my body tangled in his bedsheets, back exposed, one leg jutting out, and a mass of auburn hair spilling out across the pillow like warm honey.He kept those sheets, the ones with the big green, red, and black circles on. They came with us from home to home over the years, and on the night Theo left, as he stuffed some clothes into black plastic bags, he held them in his hands and wondered whether to take those sheets or a different set.
He was going to stay with a friend, he said. Steve, he said. Who the fuck is Steve? I asked, but that was neither here nor there. He would just stay with Steve for a couple of weeks, he said, get his head straight, he said, take a little break and then maybe we could go on a holiday and reevaluate, he said.
"But Steve only has a blow-up mattress, so I'll need to bring sheets."
It struck me as odd how, in the midst of what was a seemingly out-of-the-blue breakup, Theo already knew where he was going and what the situation regarding bedsheets would be when he arrived. And as he stood there, like a child asking his mother which towel to bring to swimming practice, it dawned on me what was happening.
I say that like the information came to me and stayed with me. It didn't. It was more like a gap in the clouds than a dawning, really. Just a glimmer of clarity that would soon pass, returning at odd intervals and increasing in length until eventually the clouds cleared completely and my brain fully accepted that it was over. The clouds wouldn't clear for some time, but in that moment, in that gap, I said, "You're leaving me, Theo, take both fucking sets of sheets." He said nothing. He packed them both.
After I'd placed the last photo in the shoebox, I stood, hands on hips, and stared for a while at the blank space I'd created on the wall. The little wooden pegs hung there, gripping onto nothing, but they didn't stay that way for long; the next day I filled that empty space with pictures of friends and family, covering it in memories independent of Theo, ones that existed in a different part of my mind, a part that didn't hurt to access.
When the wall was full, I looked at the remaining stacks of photos I had printed out and decided to keep going. I stuck them all over the fridge, but still there were more. So I stuck them to the kitchen cabinets too. I had to run to the shop to get more Blu Tack and by the end of the evening my entire kitchen was covered in photos. When I finished, I chuckled to myself at the sheer number of pictures, then realized how much like a psychopath I would seem to the casual observer and erupted into a proper belly laugh at my own expense. My laughter sounded odd in the empty apartment.
I had a cleansing of sorts, boxing up Theo's things and removing everything that reminded me of him. I bought new bedsheets; crisp white with orange embroidery across the bottom. I sold the leather sofa I'd always hated and got a comfy secondhand one instead, scattering yellow cushions on it and adding a knitted throw and a brightly colored rug. I hung new artwork on the walls. I even lit scented candles every night, so that the smell would be different. Everyone who comes to visit now remarks at how much cozier the place feels, and I wonder why I didn't do this before.
I've welcomed the onset of winter and the increasingly long evenings, which provide the perfect excuse to settle into my snug new space and read all the books I'd been meaning to get to. I curl up on the sofa with Norah Ephron or Joan Didion or some other former heartbreakee who's been there and done that and lived to tell the tale. Sometimes I stop to contemplate a particularly relatable passage, relishing the silence as I stare at the bare treetops just outside my window, their skinny black branches quivering in the breeze, blindly searching for something just out of reach.
And when I get cold, I put the heating on, choosing to ignore Theo's voice in my head telling me to turn it off and put more clothes on instead. If anything, the place is a bit too warm.The hardest and most worthwhile change I made was to replace the framed Star Wars posters in what had been our bedroom. I first saw them in Theo's apartment-the one he lived in when we met-and after that they hung in every home we ever shared. Our mutual love for Star Wars was one of the first things we talked about, and during our honeymoon days, snuggled up in his flat, we binged the original trilogy on a regular basis.
It wasn't the emotional attachment that made taking down the posters difficult. The fact is, I was absolutely terrified that somehow this breakup would ruin Star Wars for me; the physical act of removing those pictures from what was now my bedroom felt like a tiny defeat, and while I could accept that there were songs I'd no longer be able to listen to, places I would have to avoid for a while, and even people I would never see again, the idea that it might now be difficult for me to watch Star Wars-that I would forever associate those films with this shit show of a relationship-that stung.
But I did take them down and I immediately replaced them with three new posters of three powerful women; now Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor, and the Bride hang side by side above my bed and I sleep a little better with them there. By the way, I've since watched all three Star Wars films and I'm happy to report that I still felt a childlike glee throughout.Theo's here today to collect the rest of his stuff-the stuff he didn't shove in a black bag that first night or sneak out of the apartment when I wasn't home-but he hasn't seen the bedroom yet. I'm looking forward to that. In fact, I had to resist the urge to laugh out loud when he walked in and was met by the unmissable display of photos in the kitchen. I could see the cogs turning, his brain offering up to him the possibility that I had entirely lost it, and this, coupled with my chirpy demeanor in what I'm sure he was expecting would be an altogether more somber scene, must be confusing him greatly. It wasn't my intention to confuse him, only to show him that I'm just fine without him. Any other negative feelings on his part are a bonus.
I flick the switch on the kettle while Theo grapples with the new decor. I see him spot a pair of red heels by the sofa-the pair I kicked off after a night out and chose not to put away in the hopes that he'd notice them. It's not pretty, but it's true; I wanted him to see them. I wanted him to wonder where I'd been. What kind of night I'd had. If I got drunk. Or flirted with anyone. Maybe brought someone back here. Had sex with that someone in our bed. I wanted those heels to remind him of the time I wore them for him with red lingerie. And now I want him to imagine me wearing them for someone else. And I want that thought to cut him.
I haven't been with anyone else, as it happens. That night-like most nights lately-I got into bed and cried, partly from loneliness, and partly from a sense of relief at having made it through another day. Truth be told, the thought of anyone touching me right now feels deeply wrong. I did go on a date, but that was just an attempt to convince myself that I'm okay, which is ironic, really, because it only served to prove that I'm very much not.
The date wasn't planned as such. Last week I was having tapas with a friend when I spotted a very attractive guy at the table behind us. I was genuinely taken aback by how good-looking this man was. I say man-I mean boy; he was a boy. At least to me he was; I'm thirty and I guessed he was about twenty-three. He was having dinner with his parents, so to avoid feeling entirely predatory, I wrote my number on a napkin and asked the waiter to give it to him when I left.
It was one of those "fuck it" moments you get in the throes of grief.An hour later I got a text. I saved him in my phone as "The Guy from the Tapas Place." We chatted for a few days. Then we went on a date. It was awful.Now, I'm sure people have been on much worse dates than this one. The Guy from the Tapas Place wasn't sleazy or obnoxious or mean. He was just vapid; a beautiful, empty vessel of a man who taught me that making conversation with someone who has no ambitions in life and no real interest in anything can be quite difficult.
We went to a cocktail bar in Shoreditch with a sort of eighties nostalgia vibe-the wallpaper looks like hundreds of little cassette tapes and the menus come in flimsy cassette-tape holders. Novelty menus become decidedly less novel when your world is falling apart, though, so all of this was lost on me. Still, we ordered cocktails and chatted as best we could for a few short, endless hours.
He's a model-of course he's a model-but he's "not actually that interested in modeling"; he was just eager to earn some extra cash because, as it turns out, working at his mate's brewery didn't pay very well. He was approached on the street one day and offered a modeling gig by an attractive older woman.
"Not unlike you," he said.
I'll take that.
When it felt like an appropriate amount of time had passed, I suggested we call it a night. The waiter came over with a bill for sixty pounds and the Guy from the Tapas Place made no move to get his wallet out. I'm usually happy to split the bill-I don't expect a man to pay the whole thing-but I definitely do expect him to not expect me to pay it just because he's gorgeous, which is what I began to suspect was happening here. Also, the cocktails were ten pounds each, and he'd had four; I'd had two. So we kept talking, but now there was an elephant in the form of a bill, sitting on the table in front of us.The tension was finally broken when the waiter, half-bent forward in an apologetic fashion, announced that the bar would soon be closing. At this point, my date, having definitely already seen the amount we owed, leaned over, looked at the bill, and inhaled sharply through his teeth.
"That's a lot!"
"Yeah," I said, resisting the urge to explain basic math.He kept looking at it in puzzlement until finally I caved and we split the bill fifty-fifty.
As we walked toward the train station, he took my hand in his. An oddly tender move for a first date, I thought. When he put his arm around my waist I broke, giggling uncontrollably. I assured him that everything was fine-I was just a bit tipsy, you know, from the two cocktails-but the truth is I found this all incredibly awkward, and I find awkward situations incredibly funny. I don't know why. Maybe it's a physical reaction, like how people laugh on roller coasters. Either way, I was done.