It’s one of those days when you’re driving home through a countryside washed fresh by melting frost, the sun just starting to pierce the mist. The narrow road dips into hollows shrouded in swathes of dense, rolling fog, then rises, emerging into uplands of sparkling brilliance under a sky so blue you make a grab for your sunglasses. Across the valley a curl of smoke floats above the chimney of a house perched on a hilltop. Inside the car, the classical music station has decided to go Nordic in celebration of the wintry morning and a blast of fjordian Grieg makes the windows vibrate. There’s a faint smell of chlorine, you’ve spent an hour jumping up and down in a swimming pool with a group of aquagym friends, somehow managing between puffs and pants to argue the relative merits of Guinea fowl versus capon for the traditional Reveillon meal on December 24th.
It’s one of those eureka moments when you suddenly realise you’re happy.
Happiness is a warm puppy, Lucy famously told us, while Charlie Brown went for jelly babies (no green ones) and going to the pictures to see films with cowboys and Indians and no kissing. Socrates (like many other Big Thinkers) said the secret to happiness was not seeking for more but developing the capacity to enjoy less. Buddha said it was the journey and not the destination. ‘There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.’ Thoreau (or was it Nathaniel Hawthorne??) used the image of a butterfly: ‘The more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.’
The main protagonist in ‘The Passage of Desire’, Alexandra, is an unhappy person. Emotionally distant from her six-year-old daughter and her devoted husband, she’s not an immediately sympathetic character. If asked to explain this lack of feeling, she’d probably struggle to put it into words (if she ever understood its nature and the possible reasons for it in the first place). But in the magical grace of a summer holiday with an old friend, the mist rolls away and for a brief interlude Alexandra is transported to the sparkling uplands of happiness and emotional connection. Those who have read the book know what happens next. Those who haven’t – wait for it – it’s FREE, yes FREE to download this week: 21st, 22nd and 23rd December (starting as always at midnight Pacific Standard time). Take that, Grinch!
Yesterday I was the one behind the wheel of the car, getting my very own Son et Lumière fix to add to the aquagym endorphins, joining my dum de dums with the rhapsodic piano of Mr Rubinstein, recklessly braving the hasards of veering into roadside ditches in return for the inestimable rewards of staring at the dramatic spectacle outside the window, light and shadow flitting across the undulating hills of ‘little Tuscany’. Definitely a Buddha’s path moment in more ways than one, and though I couldn’t see the butterfly, I could definitely feel its wings caress my cheek.
Ours was the house on the hill, with the smoke curling from the chimney; when I finally got back, came down to earth and checked my emails it was to discover a cherry had landed on top of my happiness cake. ‘Areadersreviewblog’, run by Tina Williams and Caroline Barker, is one of my favourite haunts when looking for new books to read. Their banner proclaims ‘To read is to escape, to write is to release!’ And yesterday the book they were reviewing was my very own novella, yes, dear readers, ‘The Passage of Desire’, which, as recounted in previous blogs, had given me such birthing pains it almost joined the smoke going up our chimney. It’s always a huge thrill to get a good review, but the thing that struck me about this one in particular was that the author, Tina Williams, seemed to know intuitively what I’d been struggling so hard to write about:
‘The author delves deeply into the emotions of two women and their families…It touches on all which makes us human; the different stages of life; family dynamics; intimate relationships and unexpected desire…The setting…the wild and untamed Yorkshire moors… is a metaphor for the tale itself.’
Ouf. Thank you so much, Tina. The things that make us human, and the ‘life-changing repercussions’ that ensue when those very human hearts of ours become a battlefield. In the words of William Faulkner:
‘…the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself…only that is worth writing about.’
Joyeuses fêtes to booklovers everywhere, and may that butterfly land on all your shoulders!
Compelling and Flawlessly written ~5 stars
Reviewed by Tina Williams
I have yet to read the series of contemporary romances that comprise the French Summer Novels, but having read the observations of Caroline, my co-blogger, I jumped at the chance to review this prequel. The Passage of Desire is the story of Alexandra, the mother of the sisters, Caroline and Annabel, of the later novels Biarritz Passion and Hot Basque.
In the book Juliet, Alexandra’s childhood friend invites her and her daughter Caroline to stay with her in her family home on the Yorkshire moors. Alexandra, whose husband is away on business, is going through a low point in her life but soon begins to bloom again and under the summer sun, with her friend’s easy going attitude and the healthy country air, she begins to heal herself.
Indeed, there is much to distract her with Juliet’s own offspring: Cath, who has a young child and a volatile partner and Oliver who is about to leave the family home and go away to study. Alexandra’s own daughter is also deeply absorbed by the tangled relationships she witnesses as their visit draws to a close – I loved how the author reflected what is going on through her young eyes.
Throughout the read the author delves deeply into the emotions of two women and their families. It touches on all which makes us human; the different stages of life; family dynamics; intimate relationships and unexpected desire. The book is flawlessly written, with insight and sensitivity as the events, which will have life-changing repercussions for some, unfold.
The setting for the story, the wild and untamed Yorkshire moors, where emotions become freed and passions can often come to a head, is a metaphor for the tale itself. The reference in the book to Alexandra’s recollections of a teenage visit to The Passage of Desire in Paris is also allegorical, and its meaning reveals itself as the plot unravels. The descriptions of the various settings in the book, particularly the countryside, are vivid and beautifully written in a way that powerfully reflects the emotional journey of the characters.
I don’t want to reveal any of the plot as it would spoil the read, but suffice to say that I enjoyed the read immensely and thoroughly recommend it.
P.S. 29th December 2017: an update with three photos from the Peanuts book (1962 copy!) kindly sent by Elizabeth Stromberg. Many thanks 😉