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4.2 out of 5 stars
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Melissa, an archivist in her late thirties who has been taking care of her ailing mother, Elizabeth, is both hurt and horrified when she returns home unexpectedly and catches her husband, Richard, 'in flagrante' with a female work colleague. When Elizabeth dies shortly afterwards, Melissa decides to leave Richard behind and travels to Corfu to discover more about her mother's past relationship with famous writer and poet, Julian Adie, a heavy-drinking womaniser, who lived and worked on the island for some years (and whom the author has based on the writer Lawrence Durrell). Realizing that there is a lot more to Elizabeth's past life than she was aware, Melissa makes the acquaintance of some of the island inhabitants in the quest to learn more about Julian Adie and the women in his life. This brings her into contact with the darkly handsome Alexandros (with his strong jawline and deep brown eyes as soft as melted chocolate) who, after an initial resistance, lets Melissa know that he is very attracted to her. As time passes and she moves from Corfu, back to England and then to the south of France - where she discovers more about Julian Adie and her mother - Melissa begins to explore and re-evaluate her own life ...

I ordered this book years ago from Amazon for holiday reading, but once I received it, I felt it was going to be too lightweight and romantically sentimental for me and I have, until now, put off reading it. Having finally got around to it, I'm sorry to say that I was right in my assumption - but I can't explain more fully without revealing too much of the story and spoiling it for those who have yet to read it. In addition, the author makes a point of stating at the beginning of her book that although she based Julian Adie on Lawrence Durrell, she has "played fast and loose with his chronology… to give an impression of the author's life without providing in any way an accurate portrayal" - which made me wonder why she didn't just create her own character and left herself even more free to go wherever she wanted to with this story. That said, Ms Lawrenson's descriptions of Corfu and the south of France were beautifully done and parts of this novel were enjoyable to read and for those looking for a light, undemanding holiday read, this might just fit the bill.

3 Stars.
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on 30 October 2014
Great book
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on 1 April 2009
When you live here year-round on Corfu, it's easy to overlook the island's captivating beauty as well as the interesting and notable people who once resided here. A day in front of the computer overshadows the millions of olive trees with glinting silver leaves. A dreaded trip to the dentist in Corfu Town eclipes the flowers, exploding like fireworks in all shapes and colours. Everyday routines triumph the sea, as smooth as a dish of honey, dotted with boats, swimmers and, perhaps, underwater secrets. A white house built on the shore overlooking Kalami Bay becomes just another house - not the former residence of poet, novelist, traveller and iconoclast Lawrence Durrell.

Songs of Blue and Gold by Deborah Lawrenson brought the best of Corfu back me. This is the story about two women: Melissa, an unhappily married archivist, and her mother Elizabeth, who on her death bed presents her daughter with a startling and mysterious key to her past: a copy of Collected Poems by Julian Adie, Lawrenson's fictional version of Lawrence Durrell. On the title page an inscription by the author reads: 'To Elizabeth, always remembering Corfu, what could have been and what we must both forget.'

So begins Melissa's journey from England to Corfu to the South of France in search of her mother's past relationship with Adie as well as an internal exploration of her own unhappy personal life. Structurally complex, the novel moves from Melissa's investigations to passages of Elizabeth's time spent on Corfu with Julian Adie to fictional biography book excerpts detailing Adie's many lives and loves. A timeless character who seduces all those around him both in life and after death, Adie acts as a bridge between Elizabeth's past and Melissa's present. His biography makes Melissa question the biographies of others, including her mother Elizabeth's, and the revelation that past events shape as well as influence the lives of those in the present tense.

Lawrenson's description of Corfu, and particuraly of Kalami - both past and present - is thoughtful, delicate and beautiful. Her words paint the island at its best. Take this passage, which I can easily read over and over again: 'Each time she walked the tiny main road, effectively barely more than a lane, she noticed more: the powerful scent of jasmine escaping over a wall; bright globes in orange and lemon trees; the violent trumpets of morning glory winding through wire fencing; and everywhere the ancient gnarled olive tree, each composites of several intertwining trunks, some so holed and intricately braided you could see right through them.'

Ah, Corfu! Equally impressive, Lawrenson delves deep into the tricky and highly subjective world of time and memory, and the gaps which break as well as the bridges that bind the two together. In this way Songs of Blue and Gold can be classified as a work of literary fiction. Then again, the portryal of Melissa's investigations into her mother's past while searching for answers in her own personal life often reads as a cat-and-mouse game, a mystery which needs solving in the most literal sense through clues found in conventional scenes and conversations. A commerically viable technique, perhaps, however I couldn't help but feel let down by the scores of standard plot-moving dialogs. On whole, however, I appreciated the major issues and themes this book explores. I have the feeling that if the real Julian Adie (Lawrence Durrell) read Songs of Blue and Gold, he would smile.
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Songs of Blue and Gold is a wonderfully evocative story, an advantage for me was that I read it in Corfu, so the settings and the descriptions of this beautiful island were even more realistic.

The story revolves around Melissa. Melissa is in her 30s and her life seems to be heading nowhere. Her mother Elizabeth recently died after suffering from dementia for some time. Elizabeth gave Melissa a book just before she died, from the inscription it is clear that she had spent time on Corfu in the early 60s. Melissa knew nothing about this and is drawn to discover more about her mother's secret life.
Melissa arrives on Corfu and tries to find out more about the mysterious author who obviously knew Elizabeth intimately.

Lawrenson describes the lush and beautiful island of Corfu perfectly, from the beaches, the plants and most especially the people. The friendliness, the nosiness, the generosity and the secrecy of the small village - all are beautifully drawn.

This is an engaging story, written so beautifully.
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VINE VOICEon 11 September 2012
Before reading this, I was more aware of the work of Gerald Durrell, the naturalist and conservationalist, than his brother Lawrence, on whom the main character of this novel was based. For the purposes of the novel, Lawrence is renamed Julian Adie, a strange device that grated a bit.
Lawrence Durrell was born in India but subsequently moved to Corfu with his parental family at the age of 23. He obviously fell in love with the Island and wrote several books about it.

Deborah Lawrenson's book centres around two periods of 'Julian Adie's' life - his first marriage to Grace (also an alias), which ended in divorce with one daughter, and his supposed fling with Elizabeth, one summer after the death of his third wife, when he and Elizabeth spent a glorious few months together. The third time zone is the present day, when Melissa travels to Corfu to recover from her mother's death and her own a marital shock, and to find out what she could about a suggestion that her mother may have spent some time on the island before she was married and that she had known Julian Adie.

I think I enjoyed the account of Elizabeth and Adie's summer on Corfu most. The earlier days, with Grace, were less detailed and the current time zone contained the inevitable love affair which wasn't so well written and felt a bit contrived. Fortunately there were some wonderful Greek characters throughout and this was really what lifted the book for me.

I listened to this as an unabridged Audible download and found that in this format, the three time zones and multiple, often Greek names, were hard to keep track of. This is probably a book that should be read in paper format to facilitate checking back for details. I also felt that the voice that the narrator, Patience Tomlinson, used for Melissa, was very squeaky and annoying.

The book begged the question as to how much of the narrative was fact and how much fiction. Sometimes such books offer clarification at the end but there was no such epilogue here, which would have been useful.
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on 15 February 2009
This is a wonderfully written book that draws you in to the life of heroine and her mother's unrevealed past. It describes Corfu and Provence in rich colour and left me looking forward to my next visits. It is also fascinating examination of the main male character, a cypher for Lawrence Durrell, and the difficulty of separating biographical fact from bias and supposition. Pity about the rather unspectacular cover (supposed to be mediterranean, looks more like 'Local Hero').
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on 14 October 2008
Louise Piper's Review
title: A sensuous literary mystery

Just occasionally you pick up a book on a whim and find hidden treasure. This is one of those. "Infused with the spirit of Lawrence Durrell" and set in one of his magical places, Kalami in Corfu, the novel begins with an inscription in a book. It is essentially a book about a life in books, but what comes out of it is an inspiring and moving novel about love and loss, the tricks and twists of memory, and the unreliability of biography.

The inscription is to Melissa's mother Elizabeth, whose memory is all but gone; the words are written by the womanising poet and novelist Julian Adie (loosely based on Durrell), and hint at a romantic relationship that Melissa knew nothing about. Weighed down by grief and her own husband's affair, Melissa travels to Corfu to blot out the present by delving further into her mother and Adie's shared past. What she begins to find is profoundly disconcerting.

Anyone who knows Lawrence Durrell's work will find many of his themes subtly reworked, starting with Prospero's Cell. (Although it really is not necessary even to have heard of him to enjoy this, as it is a compelling and psychologically acute story in its own right.) The places where he lived and wrote about are beautifully recreated, and the landscape given a shimmer of sensuous lyrical magic that is truly transporting especially in the pages featuring Adie and Elizabeth.

Romance and intrigue are enhanced by rather than sacrificed to the main theme, which addresses the pitfalls of biography. Each section of the novel is prefaced by a segment of biography, whether the official version of Julian Adie's life, or Melissa's own quest-memoir "Looking for Julian" which also serves as a defence of her mother in counterbalance to a new quasi-academic re-interpretation of Adie's life - in the light of a shocking cover-up of an unexplained death - by the American Dr Braxton. The question is: do any of these versions of his life show the absolute truth?

Less successful, for me, was the part of the book where Melissa travels to the Languedoc region of France, still on Adie's trail. Her introspective wanderings around Sommieres, while poignant, lack the immediacy and vibrancy of the Corfu scenes. She has also apparently forgotten several of her hard-won lessons about her own love life along the way! The other mystery is why this book is packaged the way it is. The cover shows nothing of the gorgeous blues and greens of the sea described so vividly inside, and the women's magazine treatment extends to the blurb on the back, which gives no hint of the literary themes or Durrell. It would be a real shame if this stopped such a thoughtful, intelligent book reaching readers who might really relish it.
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VINE VOICEon 3 March 2009
Songs of Blue and Gold is a novel about knowing yourself and where you come from. Melissa's life is in crisis, her marriage is cracking up and her mother is increasingly lost to the erasing power of Alzheimers. During brief minutes of clarity, her mother gives her a gift which hints at a secret past involving the great writer Julian Adie, who lived in Corfu when her mother was younger. Melissa decides to take a break from it all and heads out to Kalami to find out what happened back in the late 1960s.

Adie has been modelled closely on the writer and hedonist womaniser Lawrence Durrell who got through four wives, had a rather bohemian lifestyle lived mainly in Kalami in Corfu, and later the Languedoc. He wrote a lyrical semi-fictionalised account of his early Corfu life called Prospero's Cell alluded to in this book as 'The gates of Paradise', and after he became a literary superstar with the publication of the Alexandria Quartet, the White House in Kalami appears to have been quite a tourist attraction in this quiet corner of the island.

Enough potted history, at this point, I must declare that I have never read any of Lawrence Durrell. My Mum gave me three out of four of The Alexandria Quartetlast year funnily enough, and after reading this super book, I will definitely seek them out, but you don't have to have read any Durrell to thoroughly enjoy this novel.

Melissa uncovers that her mother had an affair with Adie and even appeared to have had a grounding influence on him - now single after his first wife died. But for the presence of an old flame - a woman who drowned that summer and the locals couldn't, or wouldn't say what happened. When an academic writing a biography of Adie turns up on the scene and implies that her mother was involved in the incident, Melissa runs away to her family's holiday home in the Languedoc, where she uncovers her mother's writings which help her complete the story, and finds more local connections to Adie there too. Running alongside the quest is a lovely will they, won't they romance between Melissa and Alexandros, a historian who lives in Kalami; and Melissa's attempt to try and re-build a relationship with her husband.

Interestingly, the author prefaces the different sections with selections from the academic's biography of Adie, and Melissa's book putting things straight, which questions the purpose of biography without the full story. And we hear the story from the academic, the daughter, and her mother - a PoV device which Durrell used to great effect in the Alexandria Quartet (apparently).

There is so much more to this book than the washed out cover photo suggests. It is much more than just a women's novel, although the romance element is satisfying, it deserves a wider readership. The Corfu sections in particular have a great sense of place, and the ex-pat community in the 1960s really comes alive. I highly recommend this novel, and look forward to reading others from this interesting author.
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on 25 April 2012
This novel is reminisant of the writings of the Durrells, my all time favorites, so I was delighted to read this. I instantly became lost within the pages taking me back to the wonderful sights and sounds of the Island of Corfu. Other reviewers have covered the story so I won't repeat their excellent interpretations. This is delightful, engaging and if you have ever been to Corfu you will feel transported back by this authors heavenly descriptions; the heat of the Corfu sun, the smell of trailing jasmine, the chattering of the crickets in the twilight, the galaxies of stars in a Mediteranean night sky. The story is charming and I am sure if Lawrence Durrell( or his brother Gerald himself)were alive today to read this story he would probably give a happy sigh and smile, just for remembrance sake..simply wonderful!
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on 1 October 2008
I thoroughly enjoyed this book - it was a great read and the descriptions of the coast in Corfu allowed me to forget I was in gloomy Britain.

This is the story of Melissa, who goes to Greece in search of her mother's secret relationship with Adie. The way she also finds out about herself whilst reading Adie's biography keeps the pages turning. I particularly liked the past/present format and the way the author examines identity and uncertainty.

Julian Adie, the central character, is loosely based on Lawrence Durrell and I'm now inspired to read some of his books too. Highly recommended.
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