It’s been a while since I added to the ongoing, no-particular-order list of 50 Books I think you’d love, but would be unlikely to see on 3 for 2 tables or even in bookshops at all. It’s a list of potential gems, but also gives you a good idea of the sort of books most at home here at Stuck-in-a-Book.
Today’s entrant was part of a Postal Book Group I’m in, where we pick a book and send it to the next person in the list. Every two months we post a book along, and at the end of the year get back our book with a notebook of comments. Fun, and provides such wonderful books as (drumroll, please) The Long Afternoon by Giles Waterfield. So, thank you Angela for bringing it to my attention.
The Long Afternoon (published in 2000) isn’t a riveting title, is it, but does work on two levels – it is the long afternoon of Henry and Helen Williamson’s marriage, in the long afternoon approaching the First World War, and between the wars, for the Brits too old to fight who took up residence on the Riviera. That is where this novel takes place – the first chapter opens in November 1912, in Lou Paradou, with Helen Williamson enthusiastically looking over a house with an estate agent.
Henry smiled so sweetly, and with such affection, and waved at her and left the carriage and called to her, “Jolly nice place, darling!” It was easy from this distance to communicate with someone below, however far they might seem. She called back, “Darling, I think it’s lovely,” and then, remembering the agent who though he said he did not speak English certainly must understand it, added, “I mean there are problems but it is very pleasant,” and felt absurd for having used such a limiting English word. Not just pleasant but exquisite, sheltered, pure…
It is from this beautiful home, with a third person narration still suffused by Helen’s uncertain personality, that we see the onset of the First World War and, later, the Second. The cracks show in the faux-English community on the Riviera, and the lives of soldiers overlap and challenge the Williamsons’ luxury.
More subtly, The Long Afternoon is a psychological portrait of Helen Williamson – who spends one day a week in bed, for the sake of her nerves – and as the novel progresses we hear more and more from her children and their Scottish governess, throwing complicating light upon her presentation of herself.
Giles Waterfield’s first novel is a gentle examination of large-scale tragedies and small-scale frailties – this is no simple dismissal of the indolent of the wars, but a beautiful and elegant portrayal of a very real couple in destructively surreal surroundings. The Long Afternoon is impossible not to admire, and difficult not to love.