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We returned from our summer break to discuss Salley Vickers’ novel Mr. Golightly’s Holiday, a book garlanded with tributes from literary notables and from booksellers. It begins: ‘One afternoon in mid-March, when the green-white snowdrops had blown ragged under the tangled hawthorn hedges, …’ and those of us who meet up in the normal course of our daily lives were shortly heard muttering about adjectives and at least one member of the group had already hurled her copy across the room in fury at the apparent over-writing. So it was with some trepidation that, fuelled with coffee and cake, we sat down to bring our collective thoughts to bear on the whole work. And, of course, most of us had changed our opinion.
The plot, in a nutshell: Mr. Golightly, the enigmatic author of a former best-seller, having been inspired by an episode of a soap opera on his TV, retreats to a village in the middle of Dartmoor in order to bring his magnum opus up to date for a twenty- first century viewing public. And, because he becomes increasingly embroiled in the soap opera-like lives of the villagers, he never even gets started.
The story rambles on peaceably enough, with amusing introductions to various of the main characters and a welcome modernising of style. We meet a reclusive artist, a truant schoolboy, a truculent barmaid, a failed film director and are drawn agreeably into the dramas of their lives until, on page 34, this reader at least was brought up with a jolt. We read: ‘Mike, it was agreed by all at the office, was a perfect angel.’ And on the following page: ‘…a cheap offer to go diving in the Red Sea. In his younger, more forceful, days Mr. Golightly had often visited that part of the world….’ The penny dropped. We are reading an allegory, and Mr. Golightly, the death of whose beloved son will be a constant reference point, is no less a personage than God himself. During the course of the novel he will be forced to revisit his, at times, Old Testament views on such soap opera themes as love, death and what being human entails as we readers spend time with the gentle, flawed, angry, hurt, practical and loving characters who populate Great Calne.
There are, however, problems with this novel. As soon as one realizes that Mike at the office is the Archangel Michael, one starts to look out for the Archangel Gabriel and will the dreamy, charming Mary Simms receive a visitation from him? Who does Ellen represent, she who had a vision of a burning bush on the moor? What about the poet Luke who is trying to write a creation myth but is troubled by the insistent rhythms of Hiawatha? Does he represent the Gospel writer? Which Biblical character does robust, manipulative Paula most resemble? And when Jackson, the odd-job man, accepts thirty pounds to betray Ellen’s secret, we know that a remorseful hanging is not many pages away. As well as this compulsive need to assign characters, some of us had difficulties with the recurring theme of the Book of Job and felt it was not particularly well handled, and there were several who considered the final discussion between Mr.Golightly and his business rival unnecessary. Nevertheless, overall, an enjoyable, thought-provoking, recommended read.
We meet on 11th October to discuss Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady.
Withiel Book Circle – reading list
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