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A beautifully written physical and emotional journey: love and loss on Mallorca, 1948-2005

The RocksPeter Nichols The Rocks is an elegantly written read, with an interesting circular structure

It starts in 2005, with the accidental death of 2 British expats, octogenarians, who were briefly married shortly after the Second World War but then, weeks after the wedding, had a cataclysmic separation, and have not spoken to each other since. Despite living within a handful of miles away from each other, and both using the same coastal village for provisions, social meetings and the like, they have also consciously sought to avoid meeting each other by chance

Gerald was something of a loner, in love with the sea, and also fascinated by Homer’s Odyssey. It was whilst attempting to reconstruct Odysseus’ journey, from Troy to Ithaka that he hove into port on Mallorca, met Lulu, married her, separated quickly, but never left the island. He wrote a book, and scratched out a penurious living from olive trees and lemon groves, in love with the land as much as he had been with the sea and his sailing boat.

Cala Pi Mallorca. Wiki Commons

Cala Pi Mallorca. Wiki Commons

Lulu, a woman of great beauty and spirit, had had a much easier life, due to the generosity of wealthy friends. Her house, The Rocks serves as a hotel for well-heeled members of the intelligentsia. Lulu has become a famous hostess for the wealthy, arty set.

Both Lulu and Gerald married other people, and the marriages had different outcomes for each of them, but both produced children, now grown. The second generation have a kind of mirror history to their parents

We do not know what happened between Gerald and Lulu, but the ‘journey to Ithaka’ – the influence of Cavafy is strong, and his poem, Ithaka – is the theme of the novel :

Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
Wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
Not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

The melancholy, adventurous, sad longing of the poem is the same, blue, quality of this book

Its Ithakan journey spools backwards in time from the opening, to take us from the opening death of Lulu and Gerald, back in stages of 5-10 years or so, to the events which created the terrible parting, and, then, forwards once more.

This was for sure an immersive read, though I did have a few question marks over the Peter Nichols1970, Marrakech set section. Given the times, the place and the characters involved I did not completely believe the restraint which the central characters in that section were showing (can’t say more, fear of spoilers). I could see that Nichols needed things to happen as they did (or didn’t) in order to drive the plot. But I wasn’t completely convinced that he had written events in a way which was true to the character of the two friends, and to their connections with each other. So my interest did waver in that section as I lost some confidence in authenticity and integrity of characters who felt sacrificed to the gods of plot.

Inevitably, the referencing to Odysseus, to Cavafy, to Ancient Greece reminded me of another most powerfully influenced work of artistic creativity, sprung into being by another of Cavafy’s poems, and I heard it in my head, periodically. I needed no excuse:

Cohen’s Alexandra Leaving was inspired by (and uses quite a lot of ) Cavafy’s poem The God abandons Antony

I received this as a copy for review from Amazon Vine UK

The Rocks Amazon UK
The Rocks Amazon USA