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Set in 1899 Fortune's Rocks centres on Olympia Biddeford and a summer she spends at Fortune's Rocks when she is 15 on the brink of turning into a woman. At the beginning of the summer she is very much a girl still, but a crush on one of her father's friends, John Haskell, a man twice her age and the affair between Haskell and Olympia which then ensues ensures that by the end of the novel Olympia is very much a woman.
A lot of moral issues are raised, not least the age difference between Haskell and Olympia and whether or not it is ever right for a man of 40 to pursue a teenage girl. To add to this Haskell is married with three children and in starting a relationship with Olympia he is commiting adultery. It does make you think, because despite your initial reaction being that the whole relationship is wrong, the characters of Haskell and Olympia and so sympathetically drawn that by the end you are rooting for things to work out for them.
Like other books Shreve has written Fortune's Rocks is set around the turn of the century and as well as being a very good read, acts as an interesting social commentry of the time. Rather than concentrate soley on the moneyed classes - Olympia's upbringing was a privileged one and her parents and their friends are not short of money, Anita Shreve gives us glimpses into the hardships experienced by the majority of people around this time with detailed descriptions of the local town and the millworkers who live there.
There are a couple of graphically described scenes of medical practices at the time, but I didn't get the impression that these were added simply to shock - more that they were included as a stark contrast to Olympia's own life, and to bring home how large the divide between the middle and working classes was at this time.
Anita Shreve's style of writing is very descriptive and quite formal, in keeping with the time of which she is writing. I did find that the story took a little while to get going but stick with it as by the end I found that I was struggling to put the book down. If you enjoy Fortune's Rocks she has written about ten or so novels in a similar vein - the Pilot's wife is the only other one I've read but I found that equally enjoyable so I would like to think her other offerings would be a similar standard. This isn't particularly light reading but neither is it a slog to get through - all in all a good read and one I'm happy recommending if you are looking for something a bit different.
(Review previously posted on Ciao)
This book was one of many I read recently on my holiday so I thought I would write a review on it.
Anita Shreve a former school teacher is an American author and has written several books including The Pilots wife, Resistance, Strange Fits of Passion and Eden Close. Most of her novels are set in America and usually centre around a main female character. Some of her novels including Fortunes Rocks are set in the past and Anita Shreve goes to considerable lengths to ensure they tie in accurately with the history of that time. She has a very descriptive style of writing, setting the scene so clearly that the reader really feels they are there with the character.
Fortunes Rocks is set in 1899 and centres around the main character a 15 year old girl called Olympia Biddeford. Olympia and her parents have left Boston for the summer and come to the coastal resort of Fortune's Rocks. The resort is named after the rocks at the north end of the beach which has caused tragedy to many sailors.
The book begins; "In the time it takes for her to walk from the bathhouse at the seawall of Fortune's Rocks, where she has left her boots and discreetly pulled off her stockings, to the waterline along which the sea continually licks the pink and silver sand, she learns about desire. Desire that slows the breath, that causes a preoccupied pause in the midst of uttering a sentence, that focuses the gaze absolutely on the progress of naked feet walking towards the water. This first brief awareness of desire - and of being the object of desire, a state of which she had had no previous hint - comes to her as a kind of slow seizure, as of air compressing itself all around her, and causes what seems to be the first faint shudder of her adult life."
This book is essentially the story of the transition of a 15yr old girl into a women through a journey of forbidden love and the resulting losses that occur. Olympia's summer vacation and the rest of her life is shaped by the visit of a well known doctor and writer John Haskell. Haskell is a married man with a family but feels a strong attraction to Olympia which is reciprocated by her. They start an illicit affair which has terrible consequences for them and their families.
This book had me guessing what was going to happen in the end, would they live happily ever or not? I won't spoil the story but suffice to say that Anita Shreve adds a few twists before the end. Its hard to talk more about the book without giving the storyline away so I'll talk a little about the main characters instead.
Olympia Biddeford - As the book opens she is a 15yr old girl, an only child who has been schooled mainly by her father at home. As a result she has a great knowledge of books and facts but limited experiences of life and has never loved before (probably not suprising for a 15yr old girl in 1899!). She is however very intelligent and strong willed and the author makes it clear that she enters willingly into the relationship with Haskell and is not seduced by him. Throughout the book Olympia grows in character and strength as her safe and sheltered life is thrown into turmoil as a result of her choices.
Mr Biddeford - Olympias father, a dominant and knowledgable man who is very proud of his daughter and keen to show off her knowledge to his visitors at dinner parties. However he seems more concerned with Olympias education and the families reputation than Olympias emotional wellbeing. Will Olympia bring him round? - you'll have to read the book to find out.
Mrs Biddeford - Olympia's mother is less of an influence in her life. A woman who seems in her husbands shadow and complains of various vague ailments and seldom leaves the house. She does not seem to have much influence on Olympias growth as a woman and shys away from talking to her daughter about womanly matters.
John Haskell - A doctor who has written about the conditions which the mill workers who are poorly paid live in. He is married and has several young children. He seems a kind and loving man who genuinely wants to help improve conditions for the poor. However in entering a relationship with Olympia he sets off a series of chain reactions which cause pain and suffering to the ones he loves.
Anita Shreve's descriptive writing immerses the reader into the world of 1899 America with the huge void between the wealthy and the poor and highlights the changes happening to Olympia as she experiences her first relationship. I have read most of Anita Shreves novels some I have enjoyed and other not. She often writes about some of the darker sides of life which don't always make for light enjoyable summer reading. However Fortune's Rocks is one of her better novels and I would recommend it to you.
The RRP is £6.99
Title; Fortunes Rocks
Author; Anita Shreve
Genre; Romance/period drama
Price; £6.99 paperback
Ive never been a fan of romance novels. In fact, I have been known to become physically red faced in embarrassment merely by standing in the same named section of the library. Its a literary genre that has been thought of , perhaps somewhat unfairly, as the flighty, womens only kind of literature. Why then, if I so clearly agree with this notion, read Anita Shreves unashamedly romantic Fortunes Rocks? Simple really my favourite aunt loaned the book to me and I felt obliged. Was I right in my assumptions? Read on and find out .
Shreves novel tells the woeful tale of 14 year old Olympia Biddeford, a girl on the edge of womanhood who takes the leap into adult life perhaps too early, and indeed with spectacular style. Her controversial method of gaining maturity is to embark upon a torrid, passionate affair with the much older, and married, John Haskell. If this novel had been set in more contemporary times it would have found itself being completely outlawed, though since it is set way back when, it appears its perfectly alright for ridiculously young girls to have sex with men in their thirties. The terms paedophilia or statutory rape didnt exist in 1899, apparently.
Aside from the fact that Shreve doesnt seem to find her central relationship a bit of a perversion, the novel isnt TOO bad. The affair between the two principal characters is one that is quite compelling, most notably due to the age difference, but also because you dislike both characters so much youre absolutely dying for their secret to be revealed and decidedly nasty fates to befall them. There is a deliciously looming sense that their relations could be exposed at any time, which would not only limit Olympias chances of ever finding a decently rich husband (oh woe!), but John might lose his wife, who he loves so dearly that he feels compelled to sleep with other women. Hmmm
Shreves prose is, thankfully, a great deal better than her plotting. She is certainly a skilled writer, and it rather pains me that she has so much potential though chooses to waste it on ridiculous efforts like this. Her descriptive passages are beautiful at times, and her elegant, almost ecclesiastical style is very fitting for the period the novel is set. This, however, is again marred by the seediness of such an old geezer lusting after a mere child.
The plot, unfortunately, doesnt hold up for the length of the novel either. Focusing entirely upon the relationship between John and Olympia, Shreve leaves some glaring holes. I found myself vainly hoping for a nice villain, or even a death dammit, to spice the story up a bit. Quite frankly, the plot runs out of steam at an early stage (after all, how many times can you write about secret, lusting looks across the dinner table?) and I found myself mind-numbingly bored by many, many passages. The end arrived with a predictable, puttering whisper that was neither interesting nor satisfactory in terms of John and Olympia having to face any real consequences.
Fortunes Rocks is a decidedly sad affair. I couldnt bring myself to like either of the main characters (perversion, lying and adultery for some reason tends to put me off people), and I found Shreves portrayal of the relationship to be far too accepting. Her main vein of thought seems to be that their affair was wrong purely because of Haskells wife. I, on the other hand, being a normal person of intelligence, find it wrong because Olympia is FOURTEEN FOR GOODNESS SAKE!!! Im sure there are many, many far superior romance novels on the market, so please, do yourself a favour and avoid this, because its a morally skewed, boring novel that isnt worth the paper its printed on.
For my birthday earlier this year I was lucky enough to receive a handful of book tokens. This, to me, is bliss. To be able to stand in a bookshop, browsing, with the knowledge that I can (and will) leave with a stack of books thrills me. I love reading. I love escaping to a land that may or may not be completely different from my own, to become involved in strangers' highs, lows, loves and losses, from the comfort of my bed. Or bath. Or sofa. Or anywhere really! But I digress. Back to my birthday, standing in Waterstones, rubbing my hands in glee at their well-timed 'buy two, get one free' offer. It was the cover of 'Fortune's Rocks' which caught my eye. I'd never read anything by Anita Shreve, or even had a recommendation. Having read the blurb on the back, I thought I'd give it a go. That was back in July. 'Fortune's Rocks' joined my ever-increasing tower of 'books to be read', until its turn came last month - and within two weeks it was completed. (That may not sound very fast to you, but with a 20 month old child and his whirling social life to contend with, there aren't many minutes left in the day for a good read, so two weeks is pretty good!) 'Fortune's Rocks' is set mainly in the American seaside town of…Fortune's Rocks. It is the summer bolthole of 15-year-old Olympia Biddeford and her mother and father in 1899. The first half of the book is dedicated to six weeks, during which Olympia embarks on an extremely physical, tumultuous, destructive affair with 42 year old John Haskell. Haskell is a well-known doctor, married, with four children, and a close associate of Olympia's father. Shreve writes in such a way that you are very quickly drawn into the lives of the characters, so that you feel you know them as if you were a character in the story yourself. The attraction between Olympia and Haskell is built up delicately at first, so that even though
you know what is going to happen, it is still extremely compelling. The meetings between Olympia and Haskell are furtive, with Olympia instigating at least as many as Haskell - in no way is she portrayed as a poor abused child. The love between Olympia and Haskell is obviously the focus of the whole story, but at no time did I find it slushy - and believe me, I'm partial to a bit of slush! Shreve ties Olympia and her feelings closely to the environment and every day things, rather than using flowery language: "…there is no hour in which Haskell does not dominate her thoughts…the days seem more alive and arresting than any she has ever experienced before. Colors enhance themselves; music, which has before been only pleasant or difficult, now has the ability to transfix; the sea, to which she has always been drawn, takes on an epic grandeur and seems endlessly seductive…" You just know it can't last. As I read, I found myself drawn in further and further - soft romantic that I am! The affair comes to an abrupt end during a party thrown in honour of Olympia's 16th birthday. Despite insisting that they can stay away from one another, the pair are drawn together in the old chapel of Mr Biddeford's house... Unfortunately, Zachariah Cote, a poor poet with a grudge who has guessed what is going on, catches sight of them together, and contrives Haskell's wife to 'accidentally' witness it too. This is fantastically written - I think it's my favourite moment in the whole book. Even though you are constantly waiting for the couple to be discovered, the way in which the affair is revealed is shocking and breathtaking in its speed. I won't tell you even a little bit of what happens… Being, at this point half way through the book, the affair ended and Olympia in disgrace, I began to wonder what on earth could possibly be in the second part of the story. I soon realised there was lots
more to come. Olympia discovers she is pregnant…This, I felt, was disappointingly predictable, although it does enable the story to be moved on in another direction. The rest of the book follows Olympia over the next 5 or 6 years, as she lurches from one bad experience to another. Having had her child taken away from her, she continues to insist that she loves Haskell and does not regret her actions, much to the detriment of her once close relationship with her father. Olympia eventually decides to return to Fortune's Rocks and set up home on her own. She discovers the whereabouts of her child, and begins a battle to find him and bring him home. I won't say anything more about the story, except that, although there are some more somewhat predictable moments, which do seem quite incongruous in the midst of such a well crafted novel, they do not detract from the book as a whole. In fact, it’s a stonking good read. It doesn't feel like a historical novel, though in a sense it is - and it makes you realise just how far we've come. Issues of race and social standing are tackled wholeheartedly, but in such a way that you don't notice until you think about it afterwards. The characters are rounded and believable, the plot is twisty-turny, but with everything tied up somewhere along the way I would definitely recommend this book to a friend, and I shall be searching out more novels by Anita Shreve. It's not the best book I've ever read, but it's pretty darn close! Published by Abacus, £6.99 ISBN 0-349-11276-2
In turn-of-the-century New England 14-year-old Olympia Biddeford is spending the summer with her parents at their seasonal house at Fortune's Rocks. She is swiftly despatched to Boston when it's discovered she has embarked on an affair with a friend of her father's, but Olympia is already pregnant.