I had a lot of choices this year for Simon and Kaggsy's 1956 Reading Club -- three from my own shelves, plus a Persephone I'd never gotten around to reading, and even a P. G. Wodehouse available from the library (you have to love those prolific authors!) I've got one halfway done on audio and decided to tackle the Persphone, simply because it was the shortest and I'd be guaranteed to finish it in time.
I don't know why I'd put off reading Every Eye by Isobel English for so long -- it's very short, set in Spain, and a Persephone mid-century book by a woman author, all things I normally love. It was also available in another edition from the library for free (a definite plus since international shipping has risen sky-high recently). I was very pleasantly rewarded by how much I liked this book, possibly one of my favorite reads this year.
The eighteenth book published by Persephone, it's only 144 pages in their edition and 155 in mine (pictured below), in a tiny little book not more than five by seven inches. But what is in the book is powerful and beautifully written. It's the story of Hatty Latterly, who at 37 is taking a delayed honeymoon to Ibiza with her younger husband. The book alternates between their journey from London to the Balearic island, via multiple boats and trains -- and her memories of an aunt by marriage who has recently died. It is through this Aunt Cynthia that Hatty meets her first love Jasper Lomax, a much older man who had known her uncle and late father, and Cynthia is also the reason that Hatty has selected Ibiza for her honeymoon.
Aunt Cynthia didn't enter Hatty's life until she was 14, when she began a relationship with Hatty's Uncle Otway, her closest male relative after the death of her father. Eventually she marries Hatty's uncle, and when Hatty is about 20 she meets Lomax at a party hosted by her aunt. They begin a friendship which becomes something more (and to modern readers, something pretty icky). Eventually the relationship ends and we also learn, in flashback, the story of Hatty meeting her husband. In the last paragraph of the book there is a twist ending that made me want to go back to the beginning and read the entire book all over again.
However, the story is much more than this. It's fully of beautiful observations about human nature, about traveling, and family dynamics and relationships. The writing is really beautiful. I'm generally a fast reader and I have the terrible habit of speeding through passages to find out what happens next. This book is short and I took my time so I could really enjoy the quality of the writing. I really wish it had been longer so I could have spent more time with Hatty.
There must be a great emptying of the mind when one is about to start on a long journey. It is no good clinging to the shreds of last night's anxiety, nor to its comforts; everything must be fresh and completely hared at the edges to withstand the future movement and buffeting.
I loved this quote, it really is the essence of the feeling of travel. In the book, there is a lot of travel description, all of it wonderful. Hatty and her husband take a train from London, a ferry to France, another train to Paris, where they spend a day before taking another very long train journey south to Barcelona, where they get on another boat to Ibiza. I did a lot of traveling the last few years while I lived in Germany so much of this really resonated with me. Though I was lucky enough to get cheap flights most of the time, I love train travel, and I would take another boat trip someday though heaven knows when it will be safe.
I was lucky enough to visit Spain three times while I lived in Germany, and though I didn't make it to Ibiza, I did spend a week in Mallorca, which is the largest of Spain's Balearic islands (fun fact: Spain's second most popular tourist destination). I spent a couple of days in Palma, the capital city, before heading to the little town of Sóller on the island's west coast. We took a historic wooden train, which was delightful, and stayed in a wonderful B&B. It's a pretty little town and we could walk or take the tram to the Port of Sóller. It was April, and though it wasn't quite warm enough to swim the days were beautiful and sunny enough to sit on the beach, and there were lemons growing everywhere.
|The vintage narrow-gauge train from Palma to Sóller. It's more than 100 years old. There's also a vintage tram from Sóller to the Port. |
|View of the mountain from the street, our B&B was on the left, restored from 1902. |
|I loved the grillwork on all the buildings. I think this was opposite our hotel room.|
|View from the tram stop towards the square in Sóller.|
|View from the walk from our B&B to the port.|
|Port de Sóller|
I also made a day trip to the town of Deiá, a pretty town in the mountains with beautiful views. It was also the home of the writer Robert Graves who moved there in 1929 and lived there until his death. The house is now a museum, and you can visit the house and surrounding garden for a small fee. It was a bit of a walk outside the town but was worth seeing.
|View from the walk to Robert Graves' home, that's Deiá in the distance. I love the terraced hills.|
|Robert Graves' home|
|Robert Graves' study|
Another day I walked a few miles through some lemon groves to the town of Fornalutx. It was beautiful and tranquil and then I had a glass of wine and some tapas while sitting in the square, watching bicyclists whizzing by on the mountain roads.
|View along the walk to Fornaluxt|
|There were lemon and orange trees everywhere. |
There were signs posted all over for local marmalade and I'm sorry I didn't buy any.
|I was so tempted to reach through the fence and pick one of these lemons!|
|I made a slight detour on the walk which turned into a hike and I went the back way into town. |
Great view though.
|I loved this reading girl on a terrace. That would be me, everyday, if I lived there!|
|Lots of stairs in Fornaluxt! |
|The square in Fornaluxt. I sat at one of the restaurants on the right and had a snack.|
Mallorca is know somewhat for being a party island but I skipped all that and just enjoyed the stunning scenery. It was beautiful and relaxing and I would love so much to go back to Spain someday.
Thanks again to Kaggsy and Simon for hosting this event! I hope to read at least one more book published in 1956, and hopefully more in the coming weeks.
I'm also counting this as my book set in Spain for the European Reading Challenge.