My friend, who is a Malaysian-Chinese wrote: “I once dated a divorcee. But family didn’t allow it. We broke up. I always question myself how not to repeat history on my daughter’s future.”

But the hands that hold your universe together can be attached to the person with the ‘worst’ packaging. It could be someone who is divorced (as in my friend’s case), someone who does not have a job, someone who does not fit the bill of a perfect spouse.  But at the end of the day, it is the heart that lifted the hands to hold up your universe that matters.

I came home to my love nest in Phuket and sat down on this bright sunny day, looking at the sea and continued writing my second novel, The Sisterhood. The protagonist in this story is a 40 year old divorced mother of three kids, she has no qualifications (left school at 16), no rich family to fall back on and was about to start a distant learning course. The man who wanted her? A successful heart surgeon who would follow her to the ends of the world.



There’s a beautiful line in J.D. Salinger’s short story, A Girl I Knew which went like this: “She wasn’t doing a thing that I could see, except standing there, leaning on the balcony railing, holding the universe together.” In the story, the narrator was a college dropout sent to Vienna by his father to learn languages he could use for business. There, he fell in love with a Jewish girl called Leah, who was just standing there, holding the universe together.

As a young man, John McDermott used to pause from his medical textbooks and wondered how could someone possibly hold the universe together? The universe, by its nature, is chaos and entropy. It is diffused and unconfined space, empty but for the unformed potentials carried in strings that vibrated to primal beats of an unseen hand. It is nothingness.

Then, he had scurried back to the safety of cadavers and living bodies, where boundaries are clearly demarcated and one can make sense of reality once more. The universe receded further into the long-term parking slot in his brain, along with the mythical creatures from Jorge Luis Borges’s Book Of Imaginary Beings.

Now, twenty years later, he sort of knew what the narrator of the story meant, though the girl who held his universe together wasn’t Jewish, she wasn’t leaning on a balcony railing and she wasn’t ‘just standing there’. She was a harassed looking 40-year old blonde, dragging two small children along the pavements of Chelsea on this fine afternoon, talking nineteen to dozens. Her tall teenage daughter was striding alongside her carrying shopping bags from Waitrose, a perfect reproduction of her mother, who either by genetics or superior nutrition, overshot her mother in height. And in that moment, looking at that small family of two women and two small boys, John knew that – blow romantic novels – once upon a time, there was a boy who loved a girl who had loved someone else before him, but the boy would spend the rest of his life holding the girl’s universe together for her. Because she was his universe, and that was how she came to be holding his together in the first place.