on 2 February 2015
I come to this novel from a position of ignorance. I picked it because I LOVED the cover. And the first page had me intrigued. More than that I was all at sea. I feel I should explain that at the outset. I have always wanted to like Hemingway. I know I should like ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ but I just don’t ‘get’ it, however many times I try to read it. The Shoreline and the Sea is everything I have always hoped Hemingway would be. And more. There is a strong element of magic realism in this story – again I have always wanted to ‘like’ Marquez but I’ve never quite got my head round him or magic realism in general. Maybe Porter isn’t even trying to do the same things as either Hemingway or Marquez, but personally, I felt this novel was a more accessible version of these two authors and their ‘styles.’ Those with greater insight and experience may disagree. I can only write from my position.
In wondering how Porter reaches the places in me that Hemingway and Marquez failed to do, I came to the conclusion that it’s the familiarity of his realistic description. The novel is set in a village by the sea, (and even though I’ve never been to an Italian coastal village , it’s very reminiscent of Greek island living which I have a fair experience of). The detailed description of food and nature and plants and textures and sounds and sights is achingly beautiful and minutely perfectly observed.
The interesting thing is that the close observation only reinforces the isolation and loneliness of Walker, the central protagonist, who is a photographer ‘stuck’ in this village following the mysterious disappearance of his girlfriend Rachel. He encounters an old man Nonno who, it seems, holds strange powers over everyone. Nonno identifies Walker early on as: ‘Crazy photo man. You look at the world, you don’t be in it.’ And this is certainly proven to be true. The writer cleverly manages to ‘connect’ character with reader because as a reader, throughout, as a result of the ‘strangeness’ of the happenings and the style of the narrative, you are also a distanced observer trying to make sense of the world of the story. It is captivating in its strangeness and beauty. Always mysterious, always challenging but never frustrating. Instead it has a captivating charm which lures you into the story and pulls you around in it like the tides of the lake on which the village is set. Sometimes stormy, sometimes calm, always beautiful and with a hint of danger.
We are told of Walker that ‘He had to take pictures, it was the only thing that made real sense of his life.’ Throughout, Walker struggles with nature around him and with his own nature. Even though he recognises that ‘what tied you was a kind of freedom’ he is always one step removed from both his surroundings and his own inner self.
In Walker’s physical and psychological inability to ‘leave’ the village I found myself referencing the Sergio Leone classic movies which form ‘The Man with No Name’ trilogy. Maybe this is all I needed to make ‘sense’ of the situation where Hemingway and Marquez failed to connect. It certainly attests to the symbiosis of relationship between reader and writer which needs to exist before one can understand something outside one’s general experience.
As Walker is pulled into the tragedies and loves of the village and the power of Nonno, he seems to become more integrated, but really he only changes perspective and gains something more of an insight into his own identity. ‘Sometimes the lake felt more like a state of mind than a geographical location.’ And the same happens with the reader.
One isn’t supposed to judge books by their cover but I was drawn initially exactly by the simplicity of the cover and it works beautifully to counter the depth of the narrative; both charm and captivate and challenge one’s preconceptions and expectations. Letting yourself go into the story is like diving into that Italian lake. The imagery and symbolism and beauty of the words washes over you and infuses into your being.
Suffice it to say that nothing is what it seems in life as in the story, and Nonno’s refrain that there are ‘no accidents’ in life gives a deep focus through the mysterious happenings of this wonderful narrative. Looking for a resolution in such a story is as pointless as wishing for a ‘happy’ ending. This is a great example of a story where the destination is in the journey and I for one felt privileged to have travelled in the world of Walker and the mind and writing of Porter for a short time. I find it remarkable that this is a debut novel. This is a rare and unique writing talent.
on 30 March 2012
I loved this book - a real page turner - and beautifully written. When his girlfriend disappears Ben Walker behaves rather oddly, but then so do all the characters he meets as he vaguely searches for her in a strange village in a remote bit of Italy. The atmospheric opening chapters are charged with anticipation. What particularly excited me was how vivid the writing is. Books can be interesting and entertaining and yet somehow zombies. This book is a living, breathing thing with qualities that distinguish classics from mere diversions. I loved the dreamlike quality contrasting with the sudden violent episodes. I loved that it's a page turner. I loved the humour! I loved the spare hints towards the end that all was not as it seemed. I loved the loose ends. And bizarrely the ending elated me, but I won't spoil it for others... I look forward to the next in a trilogy!
on 17 March 2012
This is an enthralling and enjoyable book, an engrossing read that engaged me throughout.
The intriguing narrative centres on a photographer whose girlfriend goes missing whilst they are on holiday in Italy. The man's subsequent enforced sojourn in a fishing village provides a rich array of characters and events in a form that blends dreams and seemingly magical elements into the atmosphere of mystery - to suggest that his search is as much for himself as for the missing girl.
This is an exceptionally fine piece of writing - I relished the luminous style and pure literary skill. It is finely honed, carefully structured, richly described and keenly observed, full of precise visual evocation and some striking set pieces. The author's ability to evoke a photographer's visual perception and aesthetic language could hardly be equalled.
on 24 February 2012
I loved it - took to my Mum's for the weekend and couldn't put it down. I even read a bit in the bath which I try not to do with precious books. It's a really good story which sucks you in, and I wasn't at all frustrated at the lack of resolution at the end. It didn't seem important, in fact it seemed right. I was transported away from a cold dark December to somewhere hot and bright with lots of tasty food. It made me feel that I would rather read than do anything else - mind you there's not a lot of hot competition at my Mum's! I also liked the richness of language and the odd word I didn't know though sometimes I had to skip through bits as I wanted to get on with the story. It was luscious and alive and a bit mad. It was a gift.
on 1 March 2012
Best way for me to describe it is probably "exploration". It's based on a man's travels through Italy, hence exploring the countryside, the town he ends up in, its colourful characters and their past, exploring himself and his past, his relationships with others, and by means of his photography exploring life and others through his lens.
The story has many facets to it, and is very well written, again exploring meanings to words I didn't even know existed. Very much enjoyed reading it, it was over too soon...
on 14 April 2013
This is a rich, dense book - beautifully wriitten and constructed. Full of phsycological insights, it keeps you on the edge right to the end and is a descriptive delight with such strong visual images that you feel you are there, in that landscape.More please!
on 28 February 2012
An unexplained disappearance leads Ben Walker to a small Italian fishing village, a singular place with a tragic and violent past. As Walker struggles to unravel the mystery, his story becomes fatally intertwined with those of the locals.
The Shoreline and the Sea is an intensely atmospheric, often dreamlike book and so authentic in its detail that I felt I could taste the sardines and focaccia.
on 29 February 2012
Finally...a book with, not just a good, but great ending! How many times do you finish a book and think "...what? Did the author run out of ideas?" "Shoreline" is filled with wonderful characters who seem rooted to the soil and each other like an Aspen grove. There is also a mysterious, dream-like quality to the book and a great twist in the plot towards the end. It definitely held my interest from the very first page.