Bloomsbury £14.99 (307pp) £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897

Aphrodite's Workshop for Reluctant Lovers, By Marika Cobbold

In these uncertain times, our yearning for the supernatural has never been stronger. From Woody Allen's Mighty Aphrodite to Rich Riordan's children's series about the demi-god Percy Jackson, we long to lay our woes on gods behaving badly. Like Marie Philips's charming comedy of that name, Marika Cobbold's sixth novel is about divinity interfering in the affairs of men.

Aphrodite's favourite author, the best-selling romantic novelist Rebecca Finch, has fallen out of love with love. Newly-awakened from a toxic relationship, Rebecca tells her god-daughter Zoe that the only thing she can think of to say to couples who get engaged is "Better luck next time."

Aphrodite is seriously concerned. With soaring divorce rates and a growing number of single-parent families, she has been relying on Rebecca to keep her cult going; and when Rebecca makes a Ratner-like speech on TV, describing romantic fiction as "simplistic fairy tales", the goddess of love is in danger of being demoted on Mount Olympus. Her only hope is to make Rebecca find the perfect man.

Twenty years before, on the fateful night when Eros shot his arrow at them both, their eyes never met; as a result, poor Adonis-like John has been wedded to his work, breaking female hearts. Now an unhappy barrister specialising in divorce who just happens to be consulting the same therapist as Rebecca for his OCD, John is such a touching hero in his anxiety and kindliness that you actually care far more for him than for the heroine.

How Rebecca and John fall in love once Aphrodite steps in as their therapist is pure romantic comedy, but underlying it is the same acerbity that made Shooting Butterflies and Guppies for Tea such an unexpected joy. Those who find the concept a little too whimsical will still respond to Cobbold's dialogue and understanding of disillusionment. This is a novel as much preoccupied with the morality and aesthetics involved in romantic fiction as with the hard work of real love.

"Why the ennui and the quiet desperation, why the middle-aged affairs, why the hunger for your books?" Zoe asks. Rebecca, used to being despised and patronised by fools (much in the way Joanna Trollope is) tries to collect stories of happy marriages to rekindle her creative flame, only to find that every one has been undermined by selfishness, small children, laziness and unkindness. She also has mental problems of her own, in that she is haunted by Coco the invisible clown, who forces her to confront the delusions she has been living with.

Aphrodite's Workshop For Reluctant Lovers shows us the pain of romance, while also proving why it is essential. Mordantly witty, touching and perceptive, it's the perfect gift for Valentine's Day, one of those rare books that consoles even as it tells us the truth about love.

Amanda Craig's 'Hearts & Minds' is published in May by Little, Brown

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor