It’s hard to know where the truth ends and the fiction starts sometimes. And the truth can be unreal. In any case, the only clues we may get about How to Fall in Love with a Man who Lives in a Bush is that it’s inspired by a true story. How true, only the author and the man in question can really say.
In the novel/memoir/fiction/fact author Emmy Abrahamson hides behind a character named Julia, a Swede living in Vienna and under employed as an English teacher for adults. She lives alone and spends a lot of time with a frenemy or her cat. The cat’s company is highly preferable.
In the midst of a pity party, Julia plunks herself down on a park bench. A man joins her. A handsome, Canadian man (at least we can say that’s something that doesn’t pop up in fiction all that much). They strike up a conversation. They connect. Julia is attracted to him. There’s a small drawback. He’s five years younger than her and lives in a park (sometimes) or squats in a house with a handful of other transient “punks.”
For awhile, they make it work. Ben moves into her apartment. He teaches her how to more adventurous, and she encourages him to go back to school. But circumstances, and pride, pull them apart. After a fight, Julia comes home and finds him gone and proceeds to find a way to put herself together and have a life. More happens. I’ll leave you to it.
Abrahamson doesn’t get into some of the more pressing questions of the dangers or complexities of striking up relationship with a man who has chosen to be homeless in a foreign country. Maybe homelessness raises different when you are Swedish and living in Vienna, instead of living in close to the Vancouver Downtown Eastside. The questions I’d be asking about a homeless man there would be pretty focussed on mental illness and drug use. She’s pretty neutral about homelessness in general.
Issues of drugs are easily skirted. Ben does have an alcohol problem, but it doesn’t seem to factor much into their day to day. She doesn’t’ like his homeless friends. He gets over it. She behaves in an elitist way, and it’s easy to agree with her. When Ben takes off for parts unknown, as an outsider, I’m sort of relieved, even if Julia is distraught. Her friends are relieved too. I can’t see this working if Julia’s character wasn’t so inherently nice. I don’t think I know anyone nice enough to start dating a homeless man who, according to the narrator, positively reeks on their second date.
The book is charming, and it is funny. And it’s not a serious diatribe about not judging people. Abrahamson keeps the story small enough it’s easy to forget there’s a world of judgements out there. You root for Ben and Julia, despite their different differences. Mostly.