Do you ever try to match your reading to your vacation?
I was delighted to discover Jane Green’s The Beach House set on Nantucket before I headed to the island. With an eccentric lady running a summer boardinghouse on the bluff, the novel was clearly beachside material.
Maybe it was the just the hot sun or the sway of the hammock, but I didn’t feel like the plot took off until the characters reached the island. There it became an engaging fantasy with a lovely sense of place. Only on Nantucket could all troubles (and this book is chock-full of modern malaise) melt away on a summer breeze.
I set out to Siasconset (called ‘Sconset) in search of Green’s inspiration. The old fishing village is indeed a charming setting. Earlier in the summer all the rambling rooftop roses would be blooming.
Many of the cottages date back centuries. It’s not my camera that is crooked.
I left Siasconset Village and headed to the bluff where the larger houses were built for summer people. Newer construction at least tries to match the old due to strict building codes.
It’s hard to believe this path cutting through backyards is really open to everyone. Public rights of way are uncommon in the USA.
The bluff-top homes have stairs leading down to the beach, which wraps for miles around the island. Off season I’ve seen whales passing by. It was tempting to take a dip, but I wanted to find the house. There was one old, dilapidated Victorian that could have been the model for Windermere.
The path was cool beneath the crab apple trees. Trimmed privets afforded views of hydrangeas. I was getting warmer.
There it was!
Isn’t it the perfect bluff house? It’s weathered and aging unlike its neighbors. I just love the wrap-around porch. Can you imagine sitting in a rocking chair, watching a summer storm over the ocean? Windermere is meant to be 1920’s, and this venerable lady looks more late Victorian. It’s also not set on an improbable nine acres. Still this house was the one I pictured while reading The Beach House.
Green succeeded in making this novel ring true to a summer native. The fact that she is English and now lives in Connecticut makes this feat doubly impressive. I noted very few inaccuracies. The most amusing one was a ringing cell phone. I’ve never managed to get reception on Siasconset although the rest of the island is fine. I rather like that sense of remote isolation.
I would have liked to hear more about island life. My brother lived on island for 2 years working as a carpenter, and the year round atmosphere was very different. On Nantucket the world is divided into “on-island” and “off-island.” The economy does revolve around tourism although it’s a popular home for artists and writers too.
Dockside sunsets inspire art. My friend pointed out that it’s rare to see a town where the church steeple still dominates the skyline. Nantucket has done such a good job preserving its past, although the island has changed in the three decades I’ve summered here. Green captures well the pressures from developers to wreck lovely old homes and to replace them with McMansions.
Still, the air is fresh thirty miles out to sea. At night you can see the stars clearly. I fall to sleep to the sound of foghorns and wake to the sun rising.
One morning the sun rose in the east…
as the full moon was setting in the west:
I love the early morning light at this time of year. It lends a sharp clarity and intensifies colors. The light inspired me to paint one day. Isn’t it rather Edward Hopperesque below the big sky?
As I boarded the ferry to go home, I felt a familiar feeling of sadness but also the excitement of a new year. The kids start school next week, meaning I can resume my writing. Soon my characters will cross the Atlantic to England, and I’ll be joining them for the journey.
As I look forward to writing my new novel, NOT CRICKET, I’m still thinking about the one before it. Front page of the Sunday NYT was a story about a biology teacher’s struggle to teach evolution in a public high school. It read like a chapter from my novel S.A.D. It’s interesting when what you imagine turns out to be real.