i have learned many things over the course of my life. now that i am older, knowledge comes in fits and spurts; and lately i have been seized, shaken like a fist, with new thoughts, and ideas about myself, and the order of things. and i seem to see the reflection of these views everywhere. i see them here, in the book of ebenezer le page, presented as the reminisces of a very old man, who is from the channel island of guernsey, and has watched the world change from his little stone house, as it moves through some of the most chaotic moments in history. the characters relay not only their everyday concerns, but their fears for what the world is constantly becoming, at what progress will do to their little island, and so all the world, in its inexorable march. it is a deeply sad, and nostalgic work, and while there are many moments that are committed to concern about technology, and people, it is at its core, also a fundamentally pragmatic book, echoing the values of the world before. as ebenezer says:
Mind you, I am not one of those who say living on Guernsey in the good old days was a bed of roses. I think living in this world is hell on earth for most of us most of the time, it don't matter when or where we are born; but the way we used to live over here, I mean in the country parts, was more or less as it had been for many hundreds of years; and it was real....When I think what have happened to our island, I could sit down on the ground and cry.
but as tabitha puts it most directly, "Ah well, there is only one way of living in this world, and that is to go on from day to day, and see what the next day bring." it is the only choice left to anybody who wants to live, even if they fear the changes that inevitably come, that are out of our control.
this is also a book that made me cry like a broken-hearted child, and yet it partly hates me, because i am a woman, and so it cannot understand me, or expect me to understand. even when the women in this book claim that men have understood them, they are deceived. liza is as complex as character as i've stumbled across but she is never understood, even by raymond, the radiant and tortured soul at the heart of this book who distrusts women, and rails against them. ebenezer himself, a self-described skirt chaser defends them to raymond, but then spews forth his own rage. i should say this alienation is really only evinced in dialogue. in characterization the women aren't shells, or interchangeable, or one dimensional: they are strong, and brave, and weak, and silly, and wise, and many other things besides. but the author's antipathy to women is never fully submerged even as he presents them with complicated, differentiated characters. in contrast the love relationships between men in this book were a revelation to me. one might at first, see the depth of love between the boon comrades recounted in these pages as homosexual, and there is no doubt in my mind that some of these characters do feel that kind of love. but it also reminds us that there was a time when men felt they could never find an equality in love with women, who were so different than they, and that they shared their lives with other men, who understood them as women could not, who shared experiences with them that women could not. one could perhaps see this as a triumph of the progress feared in the novel, that the women in pants that ebenezer reviles, the women of today, might have been the kind that he could have loved as equally, as companionably, as he did jim.
the depth of all these characters, women and men, is a spectacular feat: these characters truly breathe. they are rational, and irrational, and step through these pages as a vivid pageant of complex people that you come to know, as ebenezer did. i went to live with ebenezer when i read this book. i stayed with him at les moulins, and i shared his pain, and his loneliness, and revelled with him at the top of a greasy pole, and whether he wanted me or not, i loved the rascal, and his book too.