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Recently I was lucky enough to purchase two books by an author I admired for the princely sum of £2 plus nearly the same amount in postage. Quite frankly I thought I had an excellent deal as both books, though bought as used were in excellent condition. Having read both twice I will be passing these on to my daughter as she is also a fan of this author. This mystery author is Anita Shreve, who although an American was known to me by her highly readable novel, Sea Glass. Having read three books now, I will be buying more or putting these on my wish list. If you are wondering why I used the word American, then let me qualify that statement. I am Welsh (or British for those who feel I am being pedantic.) Often I miss the point with American writers as their language and culture are undisputedly quite different from ours. However, in this case, the language of love is universal.
------ The Plot -------
Once high school sweethearts, the story of Thomas Janes and Linda Fallon, both writers of poetry, starts with a reunion after twenty-six years, at a writers convention in Toronto, where both are reading their respective works. Thomas is a highly regarded writer, despite his many years as a recluse following the accidental death of his daughter.
Linda is a womans poet, a widow with two grown-up children and a past history of unknown tragedy. From this meeting the narrative moves backwards through time, from the present day to the distant past, where the action is now in the Kenya of the 1970s, a turbulent time both politically and privately with Thomas married and Linda living with a partner. Their illicit meetings end in personal heartache, with both traumatised by their experiences. In keeping with this personal history, the narrative goes back to the very beginning, before Thomas and Linda had met and started out on a love that will transcend time and history.
------ Characters ------
Shreve is well-known for the themes of love lost, opportunities missed and a past that was not meant to be. In this book she takes this to the extreme and in doing so she gives the reader characters that refuse to be pinned down. Thomas is at times surly, quick-witted, blasé or totally smitten by love. Linda is the older woman unsure of herself, living through her children, but with a past of high emotion, living through betrayal, childhood abuse and her own burgeoning sexuality at a time in the early 1960s when women were just starting to get a voice in their lives. There are other characters, but however well-drawn, they stay in the background, a measure of their importance to what is simply a tragic love story.
Anita Shreve has a knack of introducing several themes into her novels. In some she uses past or contemporary situations to high-light a particular event. Her events may have happened a while ago, or appear as an aside to the main story, often appearing to be misplaced in the main events. In this book she presents us with several situations that we interpret on our own.
The sweeping grandeur of Kenya and the ultimate mess of the countrys politics are a pivotal part of the story, leaving behind the sense of a country steeped in the atrocities of the 1970s while the British, Americans and other races sip their G & Ts at various functions.
She then works her way backwards to the 1960s when the lovers met, became a couple and Lindas past is revealed, Shreve makes the reader feel that nothing else can go wrong, so why did the lovers part? There was a car accident that scarred Thomas physically, but what did it to Linda and how does it impact on a love that should finally become a triumph over all odds when the two lovers meet again?
------My Thoughts ------
This is without doubt the best of Shreves books that Ive read so far. Lyrical and hauntingly beautiful, the prose is both restrained but at times abundant. I am not sure whether this is a feature of a new release, but I do like the wholly unusual style of the printing.
There are no chapters in the book, something that I have noticed in one other book. Neither are there any punctuation marks to suggest conversation, instead each mark of speech starts with this, --- and the speech is marked like this, with italics. I think there is a reason for this, but I could be wrong and to suggest a reason could give away the totally unexpected ending.
As a child of the 1960s I could emphasise with the early part of the relationship, and hope it would work out.
As a fifty + year old, I wanted the lovers to resolve their earlier life and go on to survive their own tragedies. Maybe I was just too trusting, too naïve, the ending stunned me. I think perhaps I was expecting too much, so why did the way the book ended leave me so bereft?
Yet there was that hope, the feelings so aptly summed up in a few sentences when they met again .two people still connected, by space and time.
--- Ive always loved you, he said.
She put her fingers to his lips. She did not want words, she who normally craved them, crawled towards them if need be. But now, she thought, just now everything could be said with the body.
Emotive, a love story, a passion that everyone should know, just once in a lifetime. Read the ending and wonder , as I do, are there tears enough for young Thomas and Linda?
This book is available new on Amazon for £5.99 new; or mixes and matches with another for the same price. Buy a used copy for £0.1p plus postage. Used books are generally in good condition, though I do prefer to pay a bit more for perfect condition, my daughter loves these books as much as I do.
Isn’t it wonderful when you thoroughly enjoy a book by an author new to you, and then realise they’ve written lots of others? Anita Shreve lives and works in New England, as a teacher of creative writing, so hopefully there will be many more to come. I read this book on holiday, and was totally engrossed. It is a well-written story which describes the coming together of the two main characters, Linda Fallon and Thomas Janes, at various times and places. The reader is first introduced to them at a writers’ festival in Toronto, twenty six years after they first met. Another meeting takes place in Kenya in the 1970s, and eventually we learn how they first got together in Massachusetts in the 1960s. It is basically a love story, but there is plenty of interest and action apart from the interaction of the hero and heroine. We are taken back through time, more or less consecutively. There are flashbacks here and there to show us important events in the lives of Thomas and Linda. This device is essential to unfolding the tale, and is beautifully handled. I never once felt left behind as the plot moved to another time and place. Thomas and Linda are writers, and we benefit from their imaginations as they react to situations as they are, and could be. The tragic events in the plot are handled sensitively, and with feeling. The secondary characters are well-rounded and utterly believable. There are numerous sub-plots which are skilfully threaded into the main story and add a richness to the book. I particularly enjoyed the characterisations of Linda’s family during her early years, and Thomas’s colleagues in Kenya. This is quite an easy book to read. There are no long flowing sentences on which you have to concentrate before getting the gist. The style is somewhat modern, with some short sentences that strictly aren’t sentences at all. But I like the way Anita Shreve allows the r
eader to use imagination to complete their mind picture. It’s as though she has carefully gone through the script, cutting out any unnecessary words. The following excerpt is an example of her style: ********* She switched off the bathroom light and stood provocatively in the doorway, her breasts white globes in the moonlight. He had only seconds, if that, before she would see his hesitation and cover herself. And then the rest of the night would be tears and apologies, words that both of them would regret. In the distance, as he sometimes did during the night, he heard the sound of drums, of people singing. Kikuyu Catholics, he knew, returning from a midnight service. An awakened ibis cawed in the night, and a donkey, disturbed, made its raw and awful cry. Thomas walked toward his wife and prepared to tell her she was beautiful. ********* Just over a hundred words describe two complex sets of feelings, decisions, a relationship, and an African scene. This is wonderful writing. If you do decide to buy and read this book, it will be worthwhile. I guarantee that if you read it, you’ll certainly want to read it again immediately, if only to discover the bits that you will certainly have missed the first time!
This was my first Anita Shreve book. I live what I call a fast life, generally not taking time out to appreciate things. This book is wonderully sensual, not in a romantic or sexual manner, but in the way it describes tastes and smells. You end up submerged in the atmosphere of the location. The characters are wonderfully explored and developed. The book is slow and takes its time letting you into the story. Strangely enough the story runs in reverse order, but this makes you want to understand the characters even more. I could not put the book down. The ending left me breathless and kept me thinking for days afterwards. I thouroughly reccommend this book. Take a bit if time out to read it. It is a wonderful book to get lost in.
The Last Time They Met is based on a tale of childhood sweethearts. Traces the life-long relationship between Linda Fallon and poet Thomas Janes. Beginning at a writers' festival in 2000, the novel accelerates backwards and ends on a June night in 1962, taking in Toronto, Nairobi and Massachusetts, and exploring the ravages of life and the need for forgiveness.