I enjoyed this novel on so many levels, but one of the things that stood out for me was the pathos of the relationship between Luc and his mother, yet played out with a gentle humour. Taken to Paris by his father to be educated, he’s returned to The Rocks each summer, camping out – until it’s demolished to make way for another wing – in an abandoned tool-shed, or whatever hotel room happens to be vacant at the time. Having had “a beastly time of it growing up [with] neglectful parents, who at one point had actually lost her while travelling in Belgium” (p383), Lulu doesn’t come across as very maternal until the day she overcomes her distaste for boats to go on a rescuing mission when he falls overboard, unnoticed, from a visitor’s luxury yacht. Her “efficient, streamlined” (p403) love for her son is of a package with her approach to business, such as when she rounds off her yoga sessions with short philosophical readings, which she feels strike (p96):
the right note, forming a suitable bridge between the stirring and release of physical and spiritual energy and a subsequent gin and tonic.
While, as I’ve mentioned recently, I’m not so keen on reading about writers, I love the chapter in which Luc’s arty film script is commercialised to death and his mother’s dispassionate appraisal of his stumbling career (p114):
Luc was intelligent, of course, but she was no longer sure of his talent. She had read his prose – the beginnings of abandoned novels, the one he had finished which she thought poor and which had been roundly rejected by publishers … She had to admit he had some sort of facility for film writing. She saw the scenes he wrote clearly, but she wondered why anyone would go to see such films, full of aimless people with a knack for self-destruction. She disliked recognising Luc in these characters – they all seemed pathetic, and therefore quite believable … She’d helped him out a number of times but it was always disappointing to give money to a grown man.
The Rocks is the fifth book I’ve received as part of the Curtis Brown book group, with the opportunity to ask questions of the author. Greedily, I asked two questions: one about structure and other about the concept of home, as a secure base, as a unifying theme. Having read two other very enjoyable novels last year set on Mallorca (The Lemon Grove and The Vacationers), I also piggybacked another member’s question on the choice of setting.
I think your decision to work backwards in time towards the dramatic incident that drove Lulu and Gerald apart was a good one, although I did wonder as I was reading if it was going to work. At what stage in the writing did you know this was the right structure for your story?
I wrote the first 6 pages or so—up to where they topple off the rocks—years ago. I didn’t know anything about Gerald and Lulu then. I loved the voice I heard there, those two, and wanted to go on with it—but they were dead. After a while I began to think about what had happened before, to get earlier pictures of them. I saw these pictures in the reverse order of the book. I didn't know what had happened to them in the distant past. So I started writing backwards in chronology. I enjoyed going backwards because it gave the book its own odd propulsive momentum, to see not what was going to happen, but what had happened. I didn't know myself often until I got there... I knew going backwards was the right structure for the story as I was doing it, it felt more and more right.
One thread running through the various plots and subplots of this novel seems to be the search for a secure base. Odysseus’s journey home to Ithaca; Luc’s wish for his mother’s approval; Lulu’s abandonment issues; Gerald’s pining for his olive grove; Lulu’s and Gerald’s rescuing of their children; the beautiful people returning year after year to the hotel; even the name of the hotel could not be more solid. Do you see it that way?
It does seem like that when you look at it. Wasn’t conscious of that at the time. But I think a lot of writing is like that. The subconscious is mostly at work, dishing up scenes and interaction between characters, and it’s for others to figure out or read meaning into later.
And finally, the author’s response to questions on the setting:
I spent every summer between the ages of 11 and 18 in Cala Ratjada, on the east coast of Mallorca—the Cala Marsopa of the book—and this provided the place and the embryos for many characters. The Rocks, Lulu's hotel, is very closely based on a place I knew well for years and is still there largely intact: The Sea Club.
The Rocks is published by Heron Books, with my copy supplied by Curtis Brown. It’s one I’d recommend whether you are planning to holiday in the Balearics or not.