Spain Remembers

Spain Remembers

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Holiday Reading - Three Goodies, One So-so and a Clunker.

Reading in Dartmoor. The hills stretch far and away and I have the novels I like, stories about people who leave home and set out on adventures, often life-changing ones.

I started with Elizabeth Hay’s wonderful novel “His Whole Life.” Nan and her young son leave New York to find another reality in Canada. The Quebec referendum crisis is heating up and the possible departure of Quebec is mirrored by the possible collapse of Nan’s marriage. Young Jim, on the cusp of adolescence, is affected by his Canadian experiences and by the new friends his mom brings into his life.

Then a classic, “Good-bye to Berlin,” by Christopher Isherwood.  His writing is as clean and sharp as sunlight but pre-war Berlin is not a sunny place at all. Through the slowly invading darkness, he meets remarkable people including the scintillating Sally Bowles, a character famously depicted later in the musical Cabaret.

Next, Sweet Caress, the latest by William Boyd. A young fashion photographer, Amory Clay, becomes a war photographer recording some of the grimmest events of the 20th century. I have loved many of Boyd’s novels, especially Any Human Heart, his masterpiece, and in my opinion one of the best novels of the 20th century. But this book links a series of stock situations with long bursts of low energy narrative. Adding blurry photos and tossing in historical characters does not help. A disappointment.

 Then on to The South by Colm Toibin whose books never disappoint.  Kathleen, a Protestant Irish woman and a painter leaves her husband and child to move to Franco’s Spain, a country still festering from the civil war. Kathleen carries with her a terrible childhood memory of escaping a house fire set by her Catholic neighbours during a time of civil strife. In Spain, Kathleen takes a lover, Miguel, also a painter but a man with a past. He fought against Franco and his name is known to the authorities.  History’s knife stabs deep and Kathleen has to come to terms with its brutalities and find her way to reconciliation.

 In the second-hand shop in the lovely Devon village of Moretonhampstead, I found a book by Rose Tremain, called The Road Home. This was my first Tremain book. But, as The Road Home slowly revealed its deeply conservative and misogynistic viewpoint, I became more and more troubled and not only with the book but with myself. I kept reading. I wanted the main character, an immigrant called Lev, to find his happy ending. I began to think I was glossing over the reality in order to see that happen. Later, I learned, to my surprise, this novel won the 2008 Orange Prize and received glowing reviews. It will be the subject of another post.

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