Magazine article The Spectator

Shifting Hearts, Shifting Sands

Magazine article The Spectator

Shifting Hearts, Shifting Sands

Article excerpt

THE MAYTREES by Annie Dillard Hesperus, £12.99, pp. 185, ISBN 9781843917106 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

A man of about 60 who had read the American edition of this novel -- it was published there a couple of months ago -- told me lately that it was a 'grown-up book'. Among other things, I take him to mean that besides recognising the difficulties of love , it embraces them; and that love is not the exclusive domain of the young and frisky.

Toby Maytree is a poet who lives by the beach on Cape Cod . He 'hauls houses ' for a living, but he has an insatiably inquisitive mind: 'He pitched into the world for plunder, probed it with torches, filled his arms and brain with pieces botched -- to what end? Every fact was a rune . ' Lou speaks 'three languages and held her tongue in all of them ' . They fall in love -- he loves her 'immeasurable reserve '-- and get married . 'She shipwrecked on the sheets. She surfaced like a dynamited bass ... All her life the thought of his body made her blush.' They have a child.

But after 14 years of acknowledged happiness, Toby runs off to Maine with Deary, an older woman who lives not merely by, but often on, the beach: she sleeps wrapped in a sailcloth. Twenty years later, despite being aware that he had listened 'on edge, for years and in vain, to uncover where, in any anecdote's avalanche, dropped the flake she thought might interest him', he is still committed to her. But when she is terminally ill he injures himself and cannot look after her, so he brings her back to Lou to die. …

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