The novel is part family saga, part murder mystery, set after the Second World War in the idyllic Martha’s Vineyard. Nick and her cousin Helena open the novel in a heatwave, dancing and drinking on their lawn as they look forward to their lives restarting. Helena will be setting off to LA to live with a new husband, while Nick is awaiting the return of her husband Hughes from duty. From the offset, the book is sultry, you can feel the heat and imagine the moonlit nights and salty air and feel the women’s excitement.
The novel is split into five sections, each told from the point of view of one member of Nick and Helena’s family, flashing back and forward in time, spanning across several decades and continents, always returning to the same focal point. The centre of the family is the house in Martha’s Vineyard, Tiger House, and the narratives centre particularly around the events of one summer when Nick’s daughter, Daisy, and Helena’s son, Ed, stumble across a young Hispanic maid who has been brutally murdered.
We start with Nick, who is intriguing, smart and intelligent, but also bored and prone to acts of defiance, such as strutting about her rather prim and proper neighbourhood in a revealing swimsuit, or getting drunk with the band she has hired to play at a party she is hosting. She describes her frustration at the husband the War returns to her, so different and distant from the man he was before, spending her days lazing around waiting for him to come home from work, worrying about what meals to make. Then her daughter, Daisy (then 13), picks up the narrative, skipping through a summer when she is intent on winning the junior tennis tournament and spends days in training. It is also the summer when she will first experience love and heartbreak, and this summer will have devastating effects on her life many years later.
I found Helena’s part the most difficult to deal with – she does not have an easy life in L.A. and I found myself wanting more for her, and desperately wanting her to wake up to the realities of life. When it is Hughes’ turn to pick up the thread, we see him in London during the War, at New Year, at a time when home, and Nick, seem very far away. I loved hearing his side of the story, but it is Ed’s narrative that you really wait on – he is like a shadow throughout the book, people are constantly accusing him of creeping up on them, and when he is caught in compromising situations, he describes his interest in people and their misdemeanors as ‘research’. He is a troubled character, feeling the effects of his mother’s passivity, having grown up watching his father as he obsessively collects film and photographs of an ex-girlfriend in the hope of making a film about her. There is something brooding about him that seems to hang over the family.
I didn’t appreciate at the beginning that there would be concurrent narratives from different points of view and I really enjoyed it as it gives you each member of the family’s side of the story. At the end, though, there are still mysteries, family secrets that are best left undiscovered. It highlights the connections that hold a family together that outsiders aren’t privy to, and that even at the worst of times a family will always look out for their own.
It is certainly a book that will stay with you. I was chatting about this with my Book Club friends at the beginning of the week and we all loved it. We all discussed how lovely it would be to drink gin cocktails from jam jars and laze on the beach. There are elements of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night in the glamour that surrounds Nick and Hughes, the appeal they have to others and the bond between them. With a little bit of Daisy and Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby in there too I imagine (and of course Klaussman gives Nick and Hughes’ daughter the name – not a coincidence I imagine). And the summer seaside glamour of Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan is also in there too, and the complexities of adult relationships, their children trying to comprehend the secrets between a husband and wife. It’s a heady book to get wrapped up in, and I really cannot wait to see what Liza Klaussman comes up with in her next book.
First Book Award
The other nominees for the Anobii First Book Award in 2012 can be seen here. There are some great books on the list, many of which I would love to read. That said, there are also several that I have never heard of and I wonder if being nominated for the Award has much influence on the visibility of the books and if sales go up much. The Award was won last year by Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan which I’ll admit is one I hadn’t heard of before.
The First Book Award is now sponsored by ebooks by Sainsburys – the nominees for this years’ award are listed here, with the announcement of the winner to be made after voting closes on the 14th of October. If you want to vote, you can do so here. There are 42 books on the list and I have to admit that I haven’t read any of them so I won’t be voting this time round. There are quite a few that I haven’t heard of – although I have heard that The Fields by Kevin Maher (about a 13-year-old Irish boy growing up in Dublin in the ’80s) is very good – I actually heard Kevin Maher talking and reading from the book at the Edinburgh Book Festival and thought it sounded dark but funny too so will hopefully read that soon.