I’m going to start by saying that I have never read any of Anita Shreve’s books before. My personal taste tends to run on a different course, but that said, I did enjoy this novel, which I discover with interest is the third volume in a trilogy based around a house on the New Hampshire Coast. It started with ‘Fortunes Rocks’, continued with ‘The Pilots Wife’, and then this. I read it in one sitting, curled up in an armchair and wishing I was on a beach occasionally getting up to walk and look for sea glass and shells, because it is undoubtedly a perfect beach holiday read; nothing too challenging, nothing overly thought-provoking, just a nicely written, enjoyable and relaxing read. I bet Mum bought this for one of her holidays with my lovely sister in Spain, and enjoyed it by the pool!
A synopsis. The central character is Honora, and the story begins just before the Wall St crash in 1929 which will colour the entire story. Honora works in a bank, and one day meets a customer named Sexton Beecher who falls for her, (he is attracted initially by her hands, beautiful hands apparently. I did take especial note of this, as I am the possessor of a pair of hands a bricklayer would be proud of – I have large and very un-ladylike hands. I should add that I’m not particularly bothered by this, these hands have served me well over the years, but I do have ‘hand envy’ occasionally!).
After a brief courtship, they marry. He is a travelling salesman, as shifty as you would expect, and in a burst of hubris he pulls a fast one on a client and buys a ‘do-upper’ house they can’t really afford on the beach for them. Would have been fine…but the crash happens, and he loses his job. Honora, who, seriously, appears to hardly know the man she is married to, has by this time found joy in walking the beach collecting sea glass – and here I can completely relate to her – Sexton however finds her habit ridiculous and frustrating. He just drinks. So does Vivian, the bored, promiscuous wealthy socialite to a tee, who enters our story by way of moving in with a friend at the top of the beach. Also reduced in circumstance by the Crash.
Eventually Sexton finds work at a textile mill inland. Here we meet the last major characters; McDermott, who although young is already almost deaf from the noise in the mill, and Alphonse, the eleven year old son of an illegal French Canadian immigrant widow working, again illegally, in the same mill to support his family. McDermott and Alphonse form a mutually advantageous bond; other characters less so, and thus our story is set.
Ms. Shreve has obviously done some solid research into the strikes of the era, and the horrid working conditions that provoked them. She writes convincingly about the grey misery of abject poverty, the terror of having nothing to feed your children, the desperation the working class felt at this time in this place. Honora finds, somehow, food for people who knock on her door, and she and Vivian through their mutual concern are drawn together and become involved in the strike.
I don’t want to spoil the ending, but I will say this; it has surprises, sudden deaths, revelations and a fairly upbeat ending. I would choose this to read on a plane – it is well written and constructed, thoroughly researched and therefore very plausible, and has characters you can find commonality with. (If I come across one of the prequels in a charity shop I may buy it.) But, if I had finished it by the time I reached Changi I would leave it there on a seat for another traveller to find with not a qualm. And I think they would enjoy it too.
As always, it you would like this, Mum’s copy of ‘Sea Glass’, please get in touch with me either here or through Mums Books facebook page, and I will send it to you with love X