Writer: Harriet Paige
Publishing House: Biblioasis
Date of Publication: February 2017
Rating: 5 stars
”The fibrous contents of her shop – so much wool and linen and cotton – seemed a dry and tangled trap around her. But here was a face that opened up a space above her head that was cold and vast, like the sky over the sea. Her gaze floated up to the top of the page and she started to read.”
A seagull falls on Ray’s head as he is standing on the beach. The strange accident happens at an even stranger moment when Ray’s attention has been attracted by a woman who’s standing in the distance, looking at the waves. This moment changes everything. Ray goes on to create a series of paintings dedicated to that unknown woman. But what happens when Jennifer finds out that she has been the muse of a recluse artist whose heart opened one day at the beach?
”But she looks ancient to me, kind of wise and sad. Like she knows something we don’t.”
Our lives are defined by meetings and once-strangers that soon become friends, lovers, enemies. But what about the ones who remain strangers? What about those weird moments when we come face-to-face with a person we haven’t met before and yet, somehow, our curiosity is awakened? What about those chance meetings that never came to fruition? What if things were different? What if we were supposed to meet a special person and the indecisive nature of fate intervened?
Ray sees Jennifer and his life changes. Paige cleverly and brilliantly weaves her story around our anticipation. Will the two characters meet? Jennifer’s life is present throughout and this allows us to understand her character. She is an ordinary woman, levelheaded, cautious, a little too afraid of the world. Ray is a secret. Melancholic and silent, a man who lives by his own rules. Both are extremely cryptic, secretive characters and that’s what makes this slim novel even more fascinating. The quietness, the dreamy atmosphere, the very familiar routine. Every reader can connect with Paige’s story.
Paige elegantly comments on Art, the influences of the artists and the dubious ”promoters” who exploit their talent for profit. Or sex. Paige’s views on this issue are honest and eloquently depicted in the characters of Grace and Amanda, the rich wife and the inexperienced journalist, two awful women who try their best to make use of Ray and Jennifer to satisfy their sick instincts or promote themselves despite their obvious incompetence.
Do we ever get to truly know each other? Is a fleeting moment enough to define us? We are free to draw our own conclusions. What is absolutely certain is my strengthened conviction that a quiet, ”ordinary” story written with sensitivity and elegance stays with the reader long after the last page is turned. This novel resembles one of those melancholic afternoons during the end of summer. The calm, sweetness and sadness are there. We just have to give in.
”It was the first day after the clocks had gone forward, the first lone evening, and whereas yesterday this house had been marked by a dull and deepening gloom, the sun was behind them now, on its way down, and the warmth hit their backs as they walked, hand in hand like one of those sweet old couples still in love. The tide was high and Jennifer looked far across the water to the long row rise of Kent. Across the mouth of the Thames.”