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Bernie, a divorced mother of three, lives in a converted shed – albeit with a great view – in Byron Bay. She works part-time as a journalist for the local paper. Bernie has an amicable relationship with her ex-husband and strong female friendships. Her life is steady, normal, recognisable. While writing her first novel, she gets in contact with an old friend from university. Jack is married, has two children, and has never forgotten Bernie. A tortuous, intimate, passionate – yet frustratingly sexless – affair follows, fuelled by the exchange of hundreds of confessional text messages and emails. Jack's inability to be physically available to support Bernie becomes clear when her father dies and she is threatened by her neighbour. When Jack ends their relationship, Bernie is emotionally destroyed and wracked with guilt. She seeks solace in a string of increasingly dangerous and twisted sexual encounters. What begins as an innocent search for validation on internet dating sites leads – frighteningly quickly – to sexting, pornography, brief liaisons in seedy motels, group sex, and swingers' parties. She hides her new lifestyle from her family and friends and retreats into nameless, addictive sex. Losing February describes, in sometimes disturbingly graphic detail, what happens when a strong, energetic, capable woman in her early 40s completely loses her sense of self and mistakes grief for punishment.


Popular Fiction
Bernadette was in the midst of writing a novel, and memories of a poem she had received from a young love twenty five years ago came to mind. She wanted to include it in her novel, but felt she needed to ask Jack’s permission before she used it. But not knowing where he was, not having had any contact with him in twenty five years, made her unsure where to start.

When she received a message three weeks later from someone connected to Jack, saying she thought he knew the person she was after, Bernie’s life began to change. She was recently divorced from her husband Simon, and their two children spent a week with their father and a week with Bernie. She discovered Jack was married, very happily, to Julie, and also had two children. Communications began between Jack and Bernie, either by email or text, but they didn’t decide to meet up for some time…

This is where things started to go bad for me. The first third of the book, above, was enjoyable and I wondered where it would go, what would happen to Bernie’s life after she found Jack. But the monotony of every page, page after page, being pretty much the same, “will I, won’t I, should I, shouldn’t I” got tedious. It just didn’t go anywhere. I felt a little sorry for Bernie, but she did everything wrong, completely and utterly disregarding her children, her friends, and also Jack’s family. She gave no thought to her own life, her own career either and I know that’s what love can do to you, but she needed to GET OVER IT!

This novel is Aussie author Freymark’s debut, and I wish to thank the publisher for my copy to read and review.

Bernie is in her 40s and amicably divorced from her husband Simon. Together they share custody of their three children and live a relatively complication-free life in New South Wales’ north coast. That is until Bernie becomes reacquainted with Jack, someone she knew back in her university days. It seems that both of them had feelings for each other but the timing was never quite right. And even now, some 20+ years later, it’s still the same. Bernie and Jack fall in love, but the timing isn’t right, especially seeing as Jack is a local politician in NSW and he’s also married.

Their affair is love without *** – they talk on the phone, they email, they message, they sneak away for several weekends together but their relationship is never consummated. When Jack tells Bernie that it cannot continue, that he cannot keep doing this, it sends Bernie into a dark place. She begins trawling online dating sites, desperately looking for something, anything, that makes her feel. She indulges in cyber *** and “sexting” with strangers and then graduates to meeting them in hotel rooms. Here she can get something that she never could with Jack – men who want to have *** with her and aren’t constrained. But it’s not enough, nothing ever seems to be enough and Bernie continues pushing the line, doing whatever it takes to make her feel desired and wanted.

I read Shelleyrae’s review of this one a little while ago and I have to say that it interested me. When The Reading Room offered me a copy, I jumped at the chance to read it. But that was a little while ago now and I have to admit, I’ve been putting this review off. I had no idea how to get started, how to get the jumble of thoughts in my head out through the keyboard into a post. It’s quite easy to review a work of fiction – none of it is real. It’s quite easy to review a work of non-fiction, it’s all real. But I do find it very difficult to review a fiction book based on someone’s life. How much of it is real? Is the bit that I’m shaking my head and snorting at in disbelief, real? I didn’t know how much of this book to take as elaboration and how much of it had actually happened. When you read the author’s bio, she quite obviously has a lot in common with Bernie, the main character in this book.

This book is a sometimes difficult read, it’s very confronting. I think that to be a woman in her forties and divorced would be likewise, especially when you’ve found someone, connected with them and they’re still married and have no intention of leaving their wife. Bernie and Jack’s relationship may not have been physical but it was extremely intense – it bordered on obsessive and at times, I felt like I didn’t quite ‘get it’. It was too intense for me and I felt like I wasn’t given enough to really understand the depth of their feelings. I could partially relate to Bernie when it ended and she began to seek solace online. The desire to be found attractive, to have power over people, to make them want her, would be a powerful lure, especially as Jack never gave in to his desire to have *** with Bernie during their short…affair? I’m not even sure what to call it. Online, Bernie gets the gratification that she needs, that she is an attractive woman, that there are men out there who are quite willing, perhaps even desperate to have *** with her. Playing around online with dating sites and emailing and texting is not particularly dangerous behaviour and there are plenty of people, men and women, who do it.

However, meeting these people in real life is quite different. It really made me squirm each time she made a new date in a hotel, there was a little voice in my head that just kept saying “raped and murdered! raped and murdered!”. Luckily nothing bad ever really happened to Bernie, in fact in most scenarios she seemed more in control than the men, but it seemed such reckless behaviour, and I actually thought of her kids. Where she lives is a small community (at one point she sees a police officer who is sure he knows her and Bernie figures out it’s from online) and I kept thinking, what if one of them stumbled across her activities? What if one of the men she met up with, knew her children? I half expected one of the men to turn out to be her ex-husband!

The best way that I can describe this book was kind of like car-crash reading. It’s like when you drive past an accident, you don’t want to look but you can’t not look either. I found it really compelling and read it in one sitting but it was also a quite uncomfortable read. I wanted to give Bernie a bit of a shake and tell her to wake up to herself a bit. Stop living in a shed, stop meeting creepers off the Internet and try and find an actual decent guy and if you can’t do that, then just focus on your kids. Stop looking for validation of your existence with virtual strangers and actually take it from the people closest to you.

Losing February straddles the thin divide between truth and fiction with the author Susanna Freymark admitting the events of this raw and frank novel closely parallels her own experience during a difficult period of her life.

Bernie is in her early forties, a writer who she lives on the outskirts of Byron Bay, content in the shed she calls home. Her sexless marriage has recently ended and she shares amicable custody of her children with her ex husband. When a past love comes back into her life, Bernie re-discovers desire but Jack is married and their tortured, emotional affair triggers a disturbing slide into a world of sexual addiction in her desperate search for the meaning of love.

Losing February is a confronting read, exposing a woman’s grief at love lost and dreams unrealised. Her heartbreak at being rejected after a tumultuous almost affair sends Bernie on a search for validation in all the wrong places. Exhibiting many of the classic signs of a midlife crisis, she looks outside of herself for what she needs instead of facing the more difficult truths of her everyday failures. While the admittedly explicit sexual encounters in this novel attract attention it is what is driving Bernie to such extremes that I think the author hopes we acknowledge.

Surprisingly I found several of Bernie’s actions understandable, though her path is not one I would choose to take. It’s acknowledgement as a desirable woman that she pursues through the anonymous medium of online *** chat, and while essentially hollow, the interactions sates her ego temporarily. When the anonymous adoration isn’t enough anymore she pushes further – meeting the men who pursue her, and then when the thrill inevitably fades, takes even more risks, addicted to the tenuous high of being wanted. The divide between *** and love blurred by desire and acceptance is something many women struggle with and Bernie clearly illustrates that the confusion remains past adolescence.

Losing February is a glimpse into the complexities of love and desire, anger and grief, repression and letting go. This is an intriguing if sometimes disconcerting read, readers uncomfortable with graphic *** and language should probably steer clear but I think an audience of women mid thirties and older will be able to identify with the themes in this novel and Bernie’s difficult journey.