Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Beach House on Nantucket

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.

46 comments:

Cindy said...

Sarah ~ What beautiful shots with your new camera.
There is something intrinsicly calming about the ocean and beachlife. Maybe it's the rhythmic crashing of the waves in the background. Whatever it is, you have captured it in your post and even though I was just to the beach, I long to return.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cindy, I’m so happy with the new DSLR camera although the 2 shots taken with my old point-and-shoot came out well: the opening photo and the harbor sunset. I’ll continue to use both cameras as my little Canon Elph is easier to drop in a handbag or beach tote without concern.

It is you in your comment that has captured well what is soothing about the beach. I’m off to the beach today in Maine with the kids although I’ll need a car to get there and a wet suit. I can’t complain!

willow said...

These charming clapboard beach cottages are so delightful! I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Sarah. Wonderful pix.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

What a charming place Nantucket is! I'd love to set up studio in that first little cottage and live in the bluff house--haha!

Public footpaths were such a surprise to me when we moved to the UK. Someone from Texas told me "you can walk all over England". I didn't know she meant literally! How nice that public rights of way are honored in Nantucket. I think there are so many more interesting things to see off the main roads... On the other hand, it must be weird to see someone tromping through your garden. Maybe one gets used to that?

tina said...

I just love the hydrangea shot thru the hedges. What great gardens there are up north. It makes me long for New England that much more. Very lovely.

Alyson said...

Beautiful photography! You certainly have the "eye". I just love the New England coastal look. There is something about it that just touches me.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks Willow. I love the cedar shingle look too. It’s quite typical on Nantucket and Martha’s Vinyard Islands, as well as Cape Cod, where the salty air turns the cedars a pleasant grey without mold. It’s hard to maintain paint in that climate.

JAPRA, wouldn’t a beachside studio be bliss? I’m always so impressed by English rights of way. As an artist, I have to network to get access to the coastal properties in Maine. Nantucket is pretty unique in accessibility. I still feel a little strange walking right through people’s gardens when they are out on their porches enjoying the view. I supposed they get used to it.

Tina, hydrangeas grow so well in the Nantucket climate. It’s much milder than most of New England due to the sea. The winters are warmer and the summers cooler. It’s a bit like England that way. Both are moderated by the Gulf Stream.

Thanks, Alyson. Even with a polarizer, the midday sun washed out my Siasconset photos, but my Nikon handled the tricky early morning light well with the windowsill serving as a tripod. It’s hard not to get good shots in such a beautiful setting.

Cindy said...

Sarah ~ The dock sunset is one of my favorites. The water looks so glassy. That little camera does a very respectable job. There is something to be said for easy portablility!

Les, Zone 8a said...

Thank you for taking us along on your trip. It looks like a wonderul place. I roo like the dockside sunset picture, I can smell the salt.

Sarah Laurence said...

Cindy and Les, thanks. The dock sunset is one of my favorite shots too. Point-and-shoots do take good photos, and they are easy to bring everywhere, which is at the heart of blogging. Often the most beautiful sights in life are unexpected.

Jan said...

A fabulous post, Sarah.
And I've heard the name" Nantucket" many times so this was very welcome.
I'm going back for another look!

Roses and stuff said...

Sarah, I simply love your shots of these beautiful cottages and the beach house. You made me interested in that book too, maybe I should read it. This is the kind of neighbourhood that I would very much like to be part of.
/Katarina

Bee said...

Sarah, I have a fantasy about living on Cape Cod year-round. Perhaps when the children are older . . .

I just finished a memoir called "What Remains," and there are many scenes in Martha's Vineyard . . . perhaps you could file that away for another summer holiday.

What do you have planned for back-to-school reading?

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Oh, this brought back such wonderful memories for me. It really makes me want to get back to Nantucket. Siaconset is my favorite part of the island, and I know it's because of those rose-covered little houses. We also used to eat out there...the restaurant was called, I believe, The Summer ???... something or other. I wonder if it's still there??

We once took bikes out to the other end of the island, pedalling furiously straight into a strong wind. Upon reaching our beachside destination, we rather shamefacedly called a cab to haul us, and our bikes, back to town. The cab driver made us feel much better when he told us he does this all the time!

The book sounds really perfect for this vacation!

Rose said...

How exciting to find the actual setting that inspired a novel! The Victorian house is a beauty.

I've always wanted to go to Haworth House, I believe it is, the home of the Bronte sisters, but I've heard it's rather "touristy." Nantucket looks charming and so peaceful. It must be hard to leave it!

Sarah Laurence said...

Jan, thank you. I’m not surprised you’ve heard about Nantucket. My husband is not the only one speaking with an English accent on the beach. It’s become quite a popular destination for British families in recent years.

Thanks Katarina. I enjoyed The Beach House’s setting and its quirky protagonist: a very independent 65-year-old widow. The other characters were middle aged parents with marital problems. The lovely old house stole the show.

Bee, move to the Cape and closer to me! Only then I’d miss your expat observations about life in England. One of the authors in my blog roll, Patry Francis, blogs from Cape Cod. Thanks for your memoir recommendation. I spent one summer vacation on Martha’s Vinyard, but I like Nantucket better – it’s smaller and farther out to sea so feels more like an island.

Back to school reading? Wow, with the kids back in school I will have more time to read. Top of my pile is Chris Bohjalian’s The Double Blind. It was published last year and is now out in paperback. I loved his Midwives.

Pamela, it’s called the Summerhouse and it has a lovely atmosphere. I didn’t eat there this year but have other years. Last time (and I mean LAST time) I did that 22 mile loop bike ride to Siasconset with my teenaged son I blew out my knee and took a month to recover. I should have ordered a cab home. I wonder if you can take bikes on the bus. For the more fit, it is a lovely ride, and they’ve extended the bike path on the Polpis Road. This time I swam and read The Beach House. It was just the right vacation book.

Rose, it is fun to investigate the real settings behind fiction. Nantucket, other than the t-shirt shops, doesn’t feel too touristy. It’s the real stuff down to the cobble stones instead of a cutesy reproduction. It was hard to leave, but easier knowing I’ll return.

Nantucket Art said...

Great Pictures Sarah - you have a very artistic eye. Glad you're enjoying the island. Looking forward to seeing your art work!!

Sarah Laurence said...

Nantucket Art, I wish I had more time on island. I’m almost done photographing my backlog of paintings. The next step is getting them onto my website. Thanks so much for your encouragement and patience. I’m very much looking forward to being a featured artist on your website!

Sarah Laurence said...

Author Jane Green has linked to this post from her blog. Thank you! To answer Jane’s question, yes, the header image is from one of my paintings. Although that one isn’t for sale, I’m uploading more recent work that is. I’ll post an update on my blog in the next week or two.

Bee said...

Reading and looking over this post again -- yours are always worth rereading. I do love your pictures at the end -- of the border of houses topped by the big sky.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, you are so sweet to say that. The ocean feels a little smaller between us thanks to our blogs.

Anil P said...

I'm beginning to get curious of NOT CRICKET. I wonder what it is that you're going to write about :)

The homes look none the worse for their age, lovely feel to them. Are people few and far between for, I scarcely glimpsed a soul in your pictures.

The series of twilight scenes are peaceful. I believe this is your D80 at work.

If I recollect well isn't Nantucket also associated with a brand of fruit juices?

Sarah Laurence said...

Anil, I have been promising you a cricket post for weeks. Rest assured, I’m getting back to work on my NOT CRICKET novel next week. I may still blog a bit more on art and the outdoors before the mercury drops.

Nantucket can be really busy in the summer, but that day was too hot for a stroll. Mad dogs, Englishmen and bloggers go out in the midday sun? This summer the island felt less crowded. I wonder if that’s a sign of the economy. Nantucket is big and wild enough that you can get away from people. It’s remote location means few day trippers. The twilight series was indeed taken with my Nikon D80.

Has Nantucket Nectars made it to India? That’s so cool. It was started by some guys selling fruit drinks out of coolers down by the docks.

walk2write said...

The island looks so romantic with the rose-covered cottages and beautiful sunsets. Do they have many weddings on the beach? Our son and his wife got married on Pensacola Beach. The water, sand, and sun made the wedding seem so much more intimate and relaxed than in a church.

Sarah Laurence said...

W2W, I have seen couples taking wedding photos on the Brant Point lighthouse beach, but the New England weather is probably too risky to plan an outdoor service. The island defines romance.

How special it must have been to see your son married in such a beautiful setting. My husband and I got married on a boat circling Manhattan. No beaches there!

Eve said...

I live just a few miles from the beach but Nantucket is one place I would love to visit. I love stories set near a Coast too.

Your pictures made me feel like I was right there with you. I love that Victorian house. It could be the setting for a lot of the mysteries I like to read.

I will look for your books. It is always nice to meet an author.

Audrey said...

Sarah, I really enjoyed this post and can relate to the bittersweetness of the end of the summer. We just got back from the States and are still jet-lagged and I only have three more days until I HAVE to get up in the morning....I wonder if our paths have crossed in person before--I spent a summer on Nantucket in college and used to go out for years after that because my college boyfriend's family had a house out there. What's your brother's name?
Weirdly, I like to read completely different things to where I am on holiday. I don't know why, maybe I find the matching up too much immersion. This summer in the Hamptons I read a depressing book about middle England in the 1950s ("The Outcast" by Sadie Jones). I read "the Sheltering Sky" when I was in Pakistan. You get the picture.
I LOVED your photos. Absolutely gorgeous.

Sarah Laurence said...

Eve, thank you! What you say is one of the highest compliments you could pay a writer. I think you’d like the coastal settings of my books. I try to maintain an element of suspense through my narrative. They've kept my readers up at night.

It will be a bit of a wait before you read my novels because my agent is looking for a publisher for the first two, and I’ve only started writing the third. I will definitely announce on my blog and on my website when (if?) they are published.

I call myself an author because that was the category that fit me best on google blogger, and as a friend who teaches English at Bowdoin College told me, “If you have an agent, you’re an author.” I hope to grow into it!

Welcome back, Audrey! I missed you. I’m looking forward to hearing how it was coming home to the USA for a vacation. Did you like those books?

Maybe our paths have crossed, but I’d doubt you’d have met my brother as he’s even more reclusive than I am. He’d prefer that I not mention his name (different surname) on my blog, but there’s a photo and post on him here. He's helping me with one of the central characters in NOT CRICKET who is an architect as he is one too.

My brother had a beard back when he was living on Nantucket in the early 90’s. He made custom cherry furniture, turned wood bowls and marketed make-your-own Nantucket lightship baskets with a couple of islanders.

I’m sorry I missed meeting you before I left England. It's good we can connect in cyberspace. I feel like we've met in person. Thanks about my photos.

Elizabeth said...

What a wonderful tour of Nantucket - where I've always wanted to go.
The photo of the cottage with the blackeyed susans made me want to rush there immediately.......
Long Island can be lovely but real islands even better.
I'm off to England in 2 weeks which should be fun.

Sarah Laurence said...

Elizabeth, I envy all the time you have spent right by the beach this summer. Autumn is such a nice time to go to England plus the exchange rate has gotten much better since we left, sigh. Hard to believe the summer is really over.

Cosmo said...

An absolutely beautiful posting, Sarah--and HOW COOL that Jane Green linked to your blog! I enjoy your writing as much as your photographs--I bet the novels will be picked up quite soon. Can't wait!

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks Cosmo! Waiting for publication is the worst part of writing novels. It really keeps me going to hear from people like you who want to read my books - the light at the end of the tunnel. Luckily I have a great agent, Jean Naggar, to drive me there. Authors like Jane Green show it can be done and done well. These connections in cyberspace make the publishing world feel more welcoming.

Catherine said...

Beautiful shots Sarah!
I love the Ocean, the waves, the smell of the salt air, the breeze, seashells, the food, the sand, the
wonderful beach houses!:) Sorry I get carried away! Beautiful sunsets you've captured ~and the book sounds like a perfect read~especially on the Beach!:)
You have me longing for the Beach!
Enjoy your day!
Cat

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks, Cat. No such thing as too much enthusiasm. Maybe our beach days are just about over, but you can still read the perfect beach book and dream about next summer. Enjoy!

marmee said...

loved reading your journey!
your pictures were great.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks marmee, and welcome to my blog. I enjoyed your photos too.

A Cuban In London said...

I loved the contrasting images of the sun coming out whilst the moon ran away.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Thanks ACIL, I’ve ever seen the two together like that at dawn.

Fifi Flowers said...

Beautiful Post... adorable cottages! Love Jane Green books... need to buy that one... and book a trip to Nantucket someday!

Sarah Laurence said...

Fifi, thank you and welcome to my blog. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Jane’s latest and the island.

Fifi Flowers said...

Hello Sarah!
I finally obtained and read The Beach House by Jane Green... LOVED it! That is a FAB house that your picture as Windermere!!!
Hope you are enjoying your summer!
Fifi

Sarah Laurence said...

Fifi, you picked the right time of year to read The Beach House. I’m glad you enjoyed it – thanks for coming back to comment. I’m having a very good summer. I’ve spent the first half of this month on the beach and the remainder I will spend writing. So nice to reconnect with you!

Julie@beingRUBY said...

HI..
Just popped over from Maya's blog and love all these fabulous images.. I could just daydream here all day. Julie

Sarah Laurence said...

Julie, welcome to my blog and thank you! I enjoyed visiting your blog too. Which Maya referred you?

maureen wordsworth.. said...

I enjoyed reading The beach house,,looking at the photos brought it all to life for me...

Sarah Laurence said...

Maureen, welcome to my blog and thank you! It's nice to connect with another Beach House fan.