I haven’t found a lot of time to read recently. My latest book is going through labour pains but I’ve taken a pause and our local library is open again. Joy!
So, I picked up a book that is quite slim, the cover attracting me. The style of dress on the attractive woman from the immediate post-war era, the background of the sea tempting.
I loved, loved this book and give it five stars without hesitation. It’s literary in style but very accessible too. On the front cover, the tagline from The Daily Telegraph sums up Anita Shreve’s style: “Her sentences contain whole universes.”
In my stories I too like to depict ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary situations. War, for example. Most of us are nosy. We want to peer into other people’s lives and see how they cope, what they get up to.
Set in the immediate post-war years, this book offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of an ordinary young mother of two little ones, trapped in a difficult marriage. In 1947, a woman’s place was in the home and the thought of years stretching endlessly ahead, spent with a man who has been mentally scarred, turned cruel by the war, is grim.
The title of the book is beautiful, taken from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and summarises the story perfectly:
“Doubt that the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth not move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt that I love.”
Those lines are a story in themselves, aren’t they? How many story versions do they inspire? I try to picture the moment when Anita Shreve had her light-bulb moment for her book. Was she lying in a hammock, overlooking the ocean, reading Shakespeare and those lines jumped out? Was she at the theatre and hearing those words, needed paper and pen immediately and had to ask the person sitting next to her if she could borrow his programme to scribble down a plot?
I ask these questions because I’m drawing to a close with my own work in progress and I have no new ideas for another book at the moment. Maybe it’s because my brain is tired. Perhaps I want to write a different kind of book set in a different era from my last books. My head is telling me to switch off, to leave my laptop alone, get out there and let the ideas come to me unforced. Panic is sitting on my shoulder whispering to me: ‘You’re all written out. Let it be for a while.’ Perhaps I should listen. We are due to return to Italy mid August, after our daughter’s wedding. Tuscany beckons. Maybe she will work her magic. I hope so. I don’t like being barren of stories. Not one little bit.
But to return to The Stars are Fire
Aptly named Grace, the heroine of Shreve’s story, is mostly accepting of her fate but then a fire ravages through her hometown, destroying houses and lives. Her unpleasant husband, a volunteer fireman, disappears and is assumed dead. Grace’s life opens up when she is forced to find a means of survival. Enter two very different men and the story continues.
Homeless, she moves into her deceased mother-in-law’s large house by the sea. What a location. The descriptions are similar to the crumbling mansion in Great Expectations. But slowly, Grace revives the place and discovers secrets which prove useful to her.
The present tense is used for this story. It makes Grace and her plight so immediate. Not every reader likes this tense, I have noticed but it is ‘breathy’, makes Grace close and personal and fits the story very well. It’s a short book by usual standards, but perfectly formed, beautifully written and I am now a huge fan of this writer. I have read some reviews that complain about parts of the story being left in the air. That’s fine by me. I like a book that opens up questions. Life is not neat and tidy. The story can continue in our heads.
I’d love to hear from other authors who might be in my same position of floundering for new ideas. I’ve tried all the tips about cutting out newspaper articles, listening to songs, eavesdropping on conversations, recording my bizarre dreams. But so far nothing has chimed with me. When I hear writers say that they have twenty-four new ideas to write after they’ve finished their present book, I try not to compare myself, but it’s not easy.
In the meantime, before submitting my manuscript to my lovely editor at Bookouture, I am delighting in other authors’ books. They are not latest issues because I have a lot of catching up to do. (I won’t confess how many books are stored unread on my Kindle). I am going to Venice in the next one. Rosanna Ley was also put into my bag at the library visit. I shall report back but I’m sure I’m going to enjoy the journey.