Wednesday 22 June 2016
Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle
Summerlong is a slowly building, highly atmospheric read set in the Pacific Northwest of the USA, on a commuter island near Seattle. There, retired historian Abe Aronson lives a pleasantly cantankerous life, joined regularly by his girlfriend Joanna, a stewardess nearing retirement. Together, they have a wonderfully sardonic, yet very comfortable relationship, which has grown very close over the twenty years that they have been not-married and not-officially-dating (but sleeping together nonetheless). It's rare to see such a curiously uncategorised couple in literature.
One day, they go to their usual local restaurant, where a new waitress catches their eye. Lioness is special. She has a classical look about her, as if she belongs into antiquity. Somehow she shines and draws everyone's attention without meaning to.
It is Joanna who offers her a chance to stay in Abe's garage when Lioness complains of the cold of her current bedsit. And so Abe gains a lodger who leaves an impression on him, Joanna, and Joanna's lesbian daughter, and who appears to be on the run from something vague and undefined.
The novel is richly evocative and atmospheric, slowly building a sense of the unreal from subtle beginnings to ever more archetypal, mythical proportions. It's full of detail that adds to the atmosphere, but lean and not bloated with a single unnecessary word. The human relationships, dialogue, habits - they are utterly authentic, as if taken from real life.
If you like mythical fantasy, it is a wonderful treat. Even if that's not a genre you're familiar with, you'll struggle to find a more absorbing, beautiful novel this year.