Jenn has been having a marvellous holiday on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca with her husband, Greg. But her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, Emma, will be joining them shortly, with unsuitable boyfriend, Nathan, in tow. Their arrival changes everything, although not quite in the way she expected. Jenn finds herself seduced by Nathan’s youth and sensuality and, amid thunderstorms and searing heat, risks, not only her marriage, but her sense of herself.
There’d been a fair amount of media hype about The Lemon Grove, so I was surprised when I didn’t warm to it as readily as I had to another Mallorca-set villa-holiday novel, The Vacationers. The writing was competent:
with enough narrative tension to keep me reading, but I didn’t feel a strong emotional connection with the story. All that changed from around the midpoint onward, when I found myself in awe of the author’s imagination and storytelling skills. Helen Walsh writes excellent sex scenes, erotic rather than cringe-making, so that I, as another middle-aged long-married woman, felt vicariously charmed by the dangerously beautiful young man. There was a satisfying depth to the dynamics of the relationship between Emma, Greg and Jenn, raising questions about the couple’s parenting decisions, the changing needs of children from infancy to adolescence, and the responsibilities of raising someone else’s child. Jenn’s fear of being trapped in her marriage by Emma’s dependence on her was reminiscent of the stranded women in the debut novels of both Emma Chapman and Aria Beth Sloss. A catalogue of secrets and misunderstanding between the four central characters led to a satisfying climax such that I longed to know how the author had managed to keep track of the interconnecting strands.
My lack of enthusiasm for real-life holidays ensures I have mixed feelings about Lisa Reiter’s latest bite-sized memoir prompt. Holiday reads would be fine, apart from the challenge of choosing, if we could erase the “holiday” from the mix. Yet I ought to be able to do it, since memoir is about memory and I’ve had lots of travel adventures in the past. However, I’d be much happier if we could erase the “memoir” element: despite the encouragement and hand-holding I’ve received in response to my nibbles, I’m far from converted to memoir. I’m driven to write fiction … and, if I can get away with it, to dictate what others should read. But I’ve plunged in with a mélange of memoir and confabulation in roughly chronological order:
I remember reading The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath) with my sister as we sunbathed by the sea, until a man asked if he could take our photos in tinier swimsuits.
I remember Thomas Cook’s European Railway Timetable leaving me no time for novels as we tried to cover the continent in our allotted twenty-eight days.
I remember deluding myself I could relax with a novel in the original Spanish on a beach holiday.
I remember reading about tea with the vicar in Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women as prayer flags flapped in the breeze at a temple near Kathmandu.
I don’t remember reading Tagore in Calcutta or Mahfouz in Cairo or Tsitsi Dangarembga in Harare though the evidence resides on my bookshelves.
I remember the first day out for a walk with the man who is now my husband when he read me poetry though I can’t remember what it was.
I remember reading Eight Feet in the Andes by Dervla Murphy in the Andes and realising I wasn’t an intrepid traveller after all.
I remember hiding from the hot afternoon in our cabin in the Etosha National Park in Namibia to read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, unaware that the caretaker had taken it upon himself to hose down our hire car. If this were fiction, I’d have been reading about water conservation or masters and servants or the cruelty of apartheid instead.
I remember how I cried at the end of Bel Canto (Ann Patchett) on the flight home from a holiday in Patagonia that I should never have gone on.
I don’t remember what I read in that picturesque Dorset cottage but, if you’re heading that way, Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier should put you in the right frame of mind for fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast.
I do hope that wasn’t too boring. Or, I don’t know, maybe I should be banned from Bite-Size Memoir?