Amy Engel discussess the backstory--and complicated relationship--of the two main characters in The Book of Ivy, out on November 11.
True love is friendship set on fire.
It took me a long time to figure out what romantic love actually is, how it really works. As a teenager, I wasn’t exactly knocking over boys with my charm. I was quiet, introverted, self-conscious. I had a series of crushes that never really panned out. Later, in college, I gained confidence and dated a string of not-quite-right guys, was even hopelessly, stupidly in lust with a few of them. But there was always something off.
I have very clear memories of dates where I felt like I was standing outside my body, coaching myself on how to act, when to laugh, what to ask next. The entire process was exhausting and disappointing. I wondered if it would always be so difficult. And then I met the man who would one day become my husband.
I was 26 years old and working as an attorney. I met Brian his first day at the firm when we shared an elevator. I remember the moment distinctly, down to the exact outfit I was wearing and the smile he gave me when we shook hands, which is weird because at the time I thought Oh, he’s handsome, but that was about it. I was focused on my career, and definitely not looking to date someone I worked with. And then a few weeks later, on a Friday afternoon, we were the only two people sitting in the office library and we started to talk. We talked. And talked. To be honest, I don’t really remember about what (although Brian swears I asked him his political affiliation within the first thirty minutes).
By the end of that afternoon, I was ridiculously smitten. I had butterflies in my stomach to such a degree that I walked back to my office feeling vaguely nauseous (in a good way). But beyond the attraction, I genuinely, down-to-my-core, really liked this man. And I realized that’s what had been missing with all the guys before. Desire is important; it’s vital. But so is friendship, the ability to be yourself, in all your weird, honest, raw glory. Love needs both to survive.
So when I set out to write The Book of Ivy, I knew that I wanted the romance between Ivy and Bishop to involve more than lust and desire. It had to involve true friendship as well. And that type of relationship actually worked perfectly with the plot of the book. Ivy is forced to marry Bishop, a boy she doesn’t know. But she is not simply his wife; she has been coached to gain his trust, gather his family’s secrets, and then kill him in order to restore her own family to power. If all Ivy feels for Bishop is attraction, she can work around that--ignore it, smother it, even act on it--and still attain her goal. The problem lies in the fact that gradually, and almost against her will, Ivy begins to like Bishop. She likes the way he listens to her. She likes his calmness, his patience, his view of the world. And that is the one thing she absolutely cannot do. Liking Bishop is more dangerous to Ivy than anything else, because how can she kill a boy she likes, one who she is slowly coming to love?