Newest Review: ... through time, from the present day to the distant past, where the action is now in the Kenya of the 1970’s, a turbulent time both politi... more
Loves Labours Lost.
The Last Time They Met - Anita Shreve
Member Name: QueenElf
The Last Time They Met - Anita Shreve
Advantages: A love story that makes you think.
Disadvantages: Mainly for the girls.
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 woman’s 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 1970’s, 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 1960’s 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 country’s politics are a pivotal part of the story, leaving behind the sense of a country steeped in the atrocities of the 1970’s while the British, Americans and other races sip their G & T’s at various functions.
She then works her way backwards to the 1960’s when the lovers met, became a couple and Linda’s 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 Shreve’s books that I’ve 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 1960’s 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.
--- I’ve 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.
Summary: A great story with a unimaginable ending-sure to shock!