Anyway, enough about coincidences, North Face by Mary Renault:
A group of people converge on a quiet B&B on the North Devon Coast, just a few years after World War Two. Miss Searle is an academic, a teacher, and a bit on the snooty side. Miss Fisher is a nursing sister, very down to earth, seen it all. Neil Langton is also an academic and teacher, he likes climbing and walking and is nursing a tragedy in his past and has yet come to terms with his grief. The two women try to communicate with him but he's not forthcoming, keeping himself to himself. Two more guests arrive. A young girl, Ellen, about 19, and a young man, Phillip. They arrive separately and affect surprise to see each other telling everyone that they are acquaintances at work. The nursing sister puts two and two together...
Next morning, Phillip takes off in a hurry. Something clearly wasn't right. The guests assume the girl will go too but she doesn't. She stays. Out one day, Neil comes across her, stuck on a rockface and has to rescue her. From then on the two slowly become friends and more, but naturally nothing is ever straightforward especially when the two people involved both have a lot of sadness in their past.
This was a random grab from the library. Well, not that random as I've felt for a while that I should read something by Mary Renault. What I want to read is actually her Alexander trilogy but naturally my library doesn't have it so I just sort of grabbed North Face to sample the author's writing.
I wish I'd liked it as much as I wanted to. On paper it should have been perfect, set in North Devon, an area I've lived in or around for over twenty years, and involving a bit of rock climbing which I don't do but like to read about. It *should* have been right up my alley. So, what was wrong?
Well firstly, to be positive, there was an excellent sense of place. The sleepy, summery atmosphere of the North Devon coast and countryside in the late 1940s was spot-on as it hasn't actually changed all that much. I recognised various places... even if one or two were actually over the border in Somerset, no matter, that aspect of the book was delightful. I also enjoyed the rock climbing bits, the danger was very well portrayed... edge of seat stuff towards the end. Brilliant.
What I'm ambivilent about is all the internalising of emotions that was going on in the book. The author clearly had a good grasp of psychology, people's selfish motives for what they think and do was nicely put over and I found that interesting. But at times I got so bogged down in the writing of it that I had to read some sections several times and still didn't really know what she meant or sometimes what had actually happened! It was quite frustrating to be honest and I had to face the fact that I might not be intelligent enough to understand parts of the book, which is quite sobering. LOL!
The one thing that did come over very well was how damaging to people's personal lives the war was. Even if you didn't lose someone, the effect on marriages and children was often catastrophic. The other thing I was struck by was the social mores of the period. I recognised all of them in my parents and grandparents, especially as regards the behaviour of women and how a reputation could be ruined in moments. Men had a lot more leeway of course and it was interesting how Neil thought of the two women in the B&B as unmarriageable old spinsters when they were around the same age as him... mid forties. This was very much a book of its time. Attitudes were very entrenched and the idea that anyone should have sex before marriage was so unthinkable that not only did it cause terrible gossiping, it made sensitive ladies like Miss Searle quite ill and write 'letters'. Fascinating stuff from our perspective in the 21st. century.
So, I was a bit hot and cold about this one. Gave it three stars on Goodreads when plenty of others would probably give it at least a four. I'm glad I read it and will try a few more of Mary Renault's book, especially the Alexander & Theseus trilogies if I can find them.