Bringing two of my passions together, this is the first in what I hope will be an occasional series of posts based on novels (and sometimes non fiction books) I’ve been reading. This series won’t provide you with a book review – although I’ll give a quick snapshot. Instead, I’ll focus on an issue raised within the book about its location and context. Often, it’s through fiction that we can really raise issues of belonging, of the role that our environment plays on how we see the world, of the perception we have of different locations and why. Sometimes the locations become characters in their own right – how does the author achieve this, and how does this ground us in the story? I find these threads within books fascinating and I hope they give you something to think about too!
The Lake House – A brief overview
Earlier this year I read The Lake House by Kate Norton. It’s described by the publishers as ‘an intricately plotted, spellbinding novel of heartstopping suspense and uncovered secrets’. That description would normally be enough for me to put this book in the ‘over the top’ romantic category, and I’d put it to one side.
Instead, because we were reading it for book club and I am very diligent with my book club readings, I borrowed it and was glad I did. I really enjoyed the interplay between the events that had taken place some seventy years prior and the implications that still were felt today. I found the revealing of what had happened, and how it was resolved, satisfying (if a little too neat in some parts), and I loved the characters within the novel. It was a very satisfying read.
The place based thread that got me wondering …
One element that stuck in my mind was the differences between two characters in terms of their upbringing and how it played out in their lives into the future.
One character – Alice – was strongly rooted in her home in the country, and her connection back to London. In fact, this constancy provides her with a such a connection that it forms part of her self identity:
‘Sometimes Alice saw the city as a map in her mind, with pins dropped in all places to which she could claim a connection. That map was covered, the pins piling up on top of one another. It was quite a thing to spend the majority of one’s life in the same place. To acquire countless memories that layered in one’s mind so that certain geographic locations gained an identify. Place was so important to Alice’s experience of the world that she wondered sometimes how nomadic people gauged the passing of time. How did they mark and measure their progress if not against a constant that was so much bigger and more enduring than they were?’
And then she meets Ben. Ben has had a completely different life experience. Ben’s childhood had been spent with his parents, who’d worked in Asia (the ‘Far East’) as archaeologists. They’d moved from site to site, and Ben continued to live a more nomadic life as an adult. He had no desire to settle in one place. Through his childhood, he’d seen the destruction of things and places:
‘he’d realised then that the possessions people coveted in the fleeting present were destined to disappear; if not to turn to dirt then to lie buried beneath it, awaiting the curiosity of future generations. His father had unearthed many such items, he said, beautiful objects that would once have been fought over ‘And they ended up lost or discarded, the people who’d owned them dead and gone.’
Rather than settling down, instead he’d prefer to keep moving. As he says:
‘All that matters to me are people and experience. Connection – that’s the thing’.
The two characters struggled to understand each other’s perspectives. Alice’s view was that Ben was wrong:
‘His preference for people over places was all very well and good, but people had a nasty habit of changing. Or leaving. Or dying. Places were far more reliable. They prevailed. And, if damaged, could be rebuilt, even improved.’ (my note – this may or may not be true)
Do we stay still or do we move? How does our lifestyle (chosen or forced) influence the way we view the world?
This interchange, which occurs throughout the novel, got me thinking.
I fall into the same category as Alice.
Although I’ve visited many places, I’ve always lived in the one city. My visits have been as a tourist, and have been brief. I’ve never had to learn to live as a resident somewhere new.
So, although I’ve moved home (a little – not often), and I’m not too tied to my house, I do feel a connection to my city. I think. I certainly relate to the point about ‘seeing the city as a map … with pins dropped in all places to which (I) could claim a connection.’
- But do I really know what my connection is if I haven’t tested it by living somewhere else?
- What creates the shift from being a visitor to being a resident?
- How long do you need to live somewhere to become part of it?
- Or, rather than the length of time, is it more the depth of experiences?
These are some of the things that I wonder about.
I have no plans to move – but, still, I wonder.
What’s your experience been?
Are you someone who likes to change, or do you tend to stay within one place?
And what have been the positives and negatives, in terms of belonging?