What an enjoyable read! – and in so many different ways. An old nit-picker and car lover like me enjoyed the (Morris) Cowley reference and this was true of so many locations that were lightly and skilfully limned. This is a novel of love and relationships without a hint of mawkishness but with real depth of understanding and feeling in reality based contexts. Essentially, it is the story of two men who from youth onward briefly achieve a summer of communion that falls away unevenly under the weight of others’ expectations. Lives diverge and new relationships are forged, though, for a while, an amazing trinity of feeling is allowed to flower between Ellis, Michael and Anne. What was and what might have been are made clear as the reader is fed the two viewpoints of Ellis and Michael in strict sequence.
I was delighted by the economy of language and description in this story that is nevertheless rich in expression and feeling – quite a coup! There is a lot to consider in this work ranging from the ‘conventional’ in the back stories of both young men’s youths and particularly Ellis’ mother and her dealings with a wasteland marriage. Anne, the third wheel is likewise a remarkable character whose instinctive understanding is a joy. Then there is the landscapes of Oxford the university town and manufactory and that of Southern France encapsulated in Dora’s sunflower picture – earned, retained, reminisced and projected as a kind of talisman for what is important in a life well lived.
Given the time and place, there has to be mention of HIV-AIDS and Winman does not shrink from this. For me, this was just another example of how she can evoke feelings from one’s past that are deeply felt without being over stated. This was true of so many scenes and situations that must evoke memories for anyone who has experienced some of what she so beautifully and simply creates.
I have to say I preferred the first half of the book as being perhaps more gently yet intensely felt with considerable complexity. The second half (Michael’s) is almost as good though a little more uneven and with a slightly less successful grip.
This a truly beautiful, highly skilled, insightful read that I can recommend to all but the most deeply prejudiced and misanthropic – and perhaps even they might derive some pleasure and learn something from it.