Another reading recommendation picked up from listening to Radio Four’s Book Club, Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings follows a group of six young Americans who meet and become lifelong friends at Summer Camp – that American institution and rite of passage that glowed with glamour and exciting opportunities when gazed at from the Birmingham suburbs of my teenage years.
The novel focuses on two of the friends, Julie ‘Jules’ Jacobson and Ethan Figman. Jules, who discovers a passion for performance at the camp, learns the hard way that even with talent (and more talent than she has) the stage is a hard place to forge a career, especially without family money behind you. Ethan is the one member of the group with true talent, and his gift for animation and storytelling brings riches and opportunities beyond belief.
But at the heart of the novel are the events of one night in their late teens when one of the group alleges rape by another, and the consequences that flow for the couple themselves and for the six friends.
I’ve loved Anne Tyler’s novels in the past but I’ve put this one to one side half finished. Not even the 5 hour train journey back from Pembs provided sufficient incentive to continue reading about the Whitshank family. I wasn’t interested in any of the characters, nor their suburban Baltimore world.
I enjoyed The Muse even more than Jessie Burton’s previous novel, The Miniaturist.
It’s two intertwined tales of female creators that transpire to be one. Set either side of the Second World War, we first meet protopoet Odelle, one of the Windrush generation lured to London from Trinidad by Empire’s promise of opportunity. Thirty years earlier the story starts with secret artist Olive and her Austrian-English parents who are renting a rural finca on the edge of a village north of Malaga, in the run up to the Spanish Civil War.
All the way though the novel I came across sentences that really resonated. Here are a few:
A church bell rang in the distance, a sombre line of twelve dongs to hold the time before it slipped away once more.
She was really laughing; her eyes were almost invisible, they were so creased. She had that cheery unselfconsciousness that always makes a person beautiful, however unremarkable their face.
The idea that anyone might be able to detach their personal value from their public output was revolutionary.