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Sunday, 31 July 2011

The Same Sea As Every Summer by Esther Tusquets

The Same Sea As Every Summer is one of those books that I wasn't even vaguely aware of until it turned up on my university reading list. It was also one of those books that is very difficult to actually get a copy of, so when it actually got to the top of my TBR pile I was hoping that it would be worth the difficulty that finding it caused. I would say that it was definitely worth the time spent reading it, if only because I can see it staying with me for a very long time to come.

The plot is quite a simple one really. The narrator, an unnamed middle-aged housewife, who decides to move back in to her childhood home after her husband begins the newest affair in a long string, where she tries to recover the person she was before she grew up and begins an affair of her own with a university student, Clara. The plot alternates between the past and the present, interweaving the myths and fairy tales that the narrator has grown up with throughout the narrative. Along with the detailed descriptions and long rambling sentences, this gives the book a languid pace, giving the atmosphere and tone more than enough time to sink in.
The characters are a little harder to pin down, as for the most part they tend to act more as archetypes that affect the actions of the narrator rather than fully rounded characters, which adds to the fairy tale theme that I mentioned above. The narrator is a dissatisfied housewife, most accustomed to isolation from her peers and family, causing her to associate closely with characters like Ariadne and the Little Mermaid: princesses who are abandoned by their princes and left to flounder in whatever is left. The narrator's mother is similarly described in mythic terms, as a distant perfect Olympian, constantly disappointed in her daughter. Clara is an interesting character to see in hindsight, but considering the twist that was both frustrating and yet completely understandable there's only so much that I can say without spoiling the ending; what I can probably say for Clara is that she is the Beauty to the narrator's Beast (and vice versa) and is romanticized as "the most princesslike of princesses" in the narrator's view. If I'm honest, the lack of characterisation beyond the fairy tale archetypes would probably have annoyed me if it were another book, but considering the dreamy quality of the pace and the themes it actually works really well.

Overall, it's a difficult book to talk about, as not a whole lot actually happens. I hope that I've done it at least some justice in this review, as I really want to say why I like it but keep finding that it's more a feeling that I've been left with as opposed to one or more elements in the actual book. I suppose it's like a fairy tale in that respect as well, where it's just the simplicity and dream-like quality of the story that makes it stay with you. 4/5

Next review: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.

Signing off,

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