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Anita Shreve is not an author I would have picked myself to try, but while visiting my mother in law, she asked me if I wanted this book as she had finished with it and was getting rid of it. I can never see a book go past me without trying it, so I brought it home with me. I was not inspired to read it straight away as I always have a multitude of books around me, and the cover and blurb of this one just didn't grab me.
However, my hubbie was going mad at me for having too many books laid around, so I picked this one as my next one to read and send to the charity shop as it was quite thin in comparison to the others waiting. Once I started reading, I realised my mistake in putting aside this unassuming looking book, and I am definitely now going to look out for more books by Shreve, as the writing style was so eloquent it was beautiful.
The situation in the story was not that outstanding, but the way Shreve describes thoughts and feelings with such depth, it really was a moving book to read.
Set in the 1990s in America, Charles Callahan is a middle aged man who lives on Rhode Island with his wife and their 3 children. They are just plodding along, with Charles trying hard to stop his business in real estate going under, without worrying his wife.
One day, he sits to read the newspaper and a familiar face looks back out at him. Sian Richards is the published author of 3 books of poetry, married with one 3 year old daughter, yet Charles instantly recognises the 45 year old as the girl he fell in love with when they were both 13 and attended a Christian retreat week at The Ridge.
Charles and Sian take a trip down memory lane, which can only lead to one thing - them meeting, and embarking on an affair. Almost as if those missing years and the families they have created do not exist.
I make it sound pretty dull describing it in that manner, but that is the basis of the plot. Thankfully Shreve is a much more skilled author than myself, and I did feel the book was pretty special right from the off.
When we first meet Charles and Sian, they are living their seperate lives. Shreve moved me from the start writing about the economic situation at the time, with the way all the businesses and the communities were struggling in the recession. It was so like what we are experiencing now in England, it could have been set much more recently and felt very relevant. Charles is a man on the edge of his faculties before he sees the picture of Sian. You feel his fear at how he will deal with his financial situation.
Seeing Sian sets him off on a pathway that neither of them seem able or willing to stop. What starts as a fairly innocent seeming trip down memory lane leads to a full blown passionate affair, and neither of them know how to deal with it.
Shreve uses a technique of using letters between the two where they reminis about their childhood fling, then has the characters meeting back at the place where they first met each other. This place seems unchanged from their memories, which almost gives them the idea it is ok or their right to act this way. Family and distance tore them apart when they were 13 and fell in love, and now family is going to stop them being together now.
Her writing is some of the most erotic I have ever read, and not because it was overly explicit, but because you start to feel a connection between the souls of these two individuals, and a mix of sadness, passion, urgency and desire as each meeting may be the last few moments that they get to spend together.
What is essentially a run of the mill adulterous affair is written in such a way that I felt such sadness for everyone involved. It felt like they should be allowed to be together, but by the same respect I felt such empathy for the wife and husband at home, particularly Charle's wife who is about to have her whole life tumble round her with not just her marriage at risk, but her home as well.
I also found it so surreal that these 2 people had been in fairly comfortable if not passionate relationships before this chance encounter. It scared me a little that the family unit was so fragile.
What could have been dull and a bit predictable, actually was a decent novel that had me totally engaged the whole way through. I loved the style of looking at things through both of the main characters eyes, looking first from one point of view and then the other person's. I also liked how the affair was not just something seedy, but very intellectual and a lot of the effect on me came from being able to see right into the mind of them both, but particularly Charles. You don't see men often in books consumed in such an emotional way. Adultery is usually portrayed more as a physical need than the emotional connection I saw here.
I would definitely be interested in reading more work by Shreve as her observations here are absolutely spot on, and this novel will remain in my thoughts longer than the last page.