Monday, May 22, 2017

Down by the Sea

Stanley Middleton's Holiday is one of those novels where nothing much happens--or does it?

We first meet Edwin Fisher as he attends a church service during this seaside vacation. The dreamy description of the service, complete with shafts of sunlight streaming down, sets the tone of this novel in which the past and the present approach each other, sometimes mingling, sometimes circling warily before heading off again in different directions.

Edwin Fisher's holiday is really an escape from the turmoil of the end of his marriage to the volatile Meg. He's taken a room in the resort town where he vacationed years before. Returning as an established professor, he sees the town for the tacky spot it is--but isn't above enjoying the pleasures it has to offer, including pretty girls in bathing suits and the chance to rub elbows (and perhaps more, if he follows up) with the blue collar vacationers and their restless wives. His visit is complicated almost instantly by the appearance of Meg's parents, also on holiday and determined to make sure that he and Meg work things out.

Middleton has an ear for dialog and an eye for the small but telling detail. Against the background of resort foolishness, Fisher seems almost becalmed by his intelligence, his social status, and his memories of the events that brought his marriage to its current state. The English talent for understatement is splendidly on display here, both in Fisher's behavior and in Middleton's telling. That Fisher's quiet introspection can hold our interest confirms the success of Middleton's technique.

Excerpt (on the beach):

Fisher idly watched two young women who had settled near him.

Their preparations were priest-like; Pope approached truth in the 'Rape of the Lock.' First they laid the huge beach-towel, weighted its corners with their baskets and bags. This took time, circumambulation, calculation of the sun's position later in the day; both chattered with a kind of intensity, like a commentator into a handmicrophone, as if to ensure their inanities arrived at the listener. He had been amused for a quarter of an hour before he realised that he was the target, he was the morning's eligible young man, mark one. They did not look at him much, but made certain that they had his attention, by constant movement, barbs of conversation.

Curiously, as he examined himself, he felt flattered.

Note: This book counts toward my quest to read all the Man Bookers, the Color Coded Reading Challenge, and the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. It's also the  E location in the Where are You Reading Challenge.  Onward!

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