Sunday, 26 June 2011

Fortune's Rocks (Anita Shreve)

--The blurb--
"In turn-of-the-century New England 15-year-old Olympia Biddeford is spending the summer with her parents at their seasonal house at Fortune's Rocks. She is swiftly despatched to Boston when it's discovered she has embarked on an affair with a friend of her father's, but Olympia is already pregnant."

--The review--
Teaching high school for the past three years has only consolidated my belief that there is no child of this age who is mentally/emotionally capable of adequate parenthood. Children of this age, even the very mature ones, are naturally still in a very difficult emotional stage and state; although I am sure many would try to make the best of teenage parenthood, they still have many things to sort out in their minds and hearts, and so many things to enjoy while young and childless that are difficult or impossible to do once you have a little person in tow.

Anita Shreve is the only person who has ever come close to changing my mind about this through the character of Olympia Biddeford. Whether this is because Olympia is not a realistic character, or whether this is because the author has shown the full maturity of certain young people, the impression we have as readers at least is that Shreve deftly combines the emotional and physical innocence of a flowering young lady with the emotional and intellectual maturity of someone really quite advanced. While there is a certain amount of idealism, though, the author does not keep us under any illusions: this is heading for trouble, and fast.

The antagonist, John Haskell, is guaranteed to polarise audiences: you will either understand him and empathise with him, and be on the side of his and Olympia's romance, or hate and revile him and side with his wife and children. But although the initial decisions of Olympia and John provide the book's kick-start, it is the decisions of others that prove the catalyst and make us want to keep reading, as their futures are repeatedly taken out of their hands. 

But there is more to Fortune's Rocks than mere romance and dalliance: the legal aspects of the novel are simultaneously well-researched and accessible, and this legacy is carried, albeit to a lesser degree, by the next generation of romantic novelists, including Jodi Picoult and Sophie Kinsella. But the difference between these novelists and Anita Shreve is not only to be found in the depth of research and character but also in the lack of vacuousness and the beauty of the prose provided by the author. This is not only romantic fiction - this is literary fiction of the highest order, and perhaps something that Shreve's inheritors have not been able to carry the torch for.

Although it takes a long time to reach the story's conclusion, we are not bored for a moment on the journey, and when we do get to the end, we are not only satisfied, but even a little disappointed to be leaving Olympia behind, having followed her for five important years of her life and seen her develop and grow while still remaining the same person. And so it is to readers' delight to find that Fortune's Rocks is only the first in a quartet set at the same beach house (with the following three being, in order, Sea Glass, The Pilot's Wife, and Body Surfing) - and when you have this reaction to knowing that in fact, there is more to come from this dream-like setting, that can only be a good sign.

Other works by Anita Shreve
Past The Island, Drifting (1975)
Eden Close (1989)
Strange Fits of Passion (1991)
Where Or When (1993)
Resistance (1995)
The Weight Of Water (1997)
The Pilot's Wife (1998)
The Last Time They Met (2001)
Sea Glass (2002)
All He Ever Wanted (2003)
Light On Snow (2004)
A Wedding In December (2005)
Body Surfing (2007)
Testimony (2008)
A Change in Altitude (2009)
Rescue (2010)

1 comment:

France said...

This story seemed to drag for me... especially the first three quarters. I'm not sure I'd recommend it, in that it was so slow-moving. I did enjoy the period-setting.