The Sea Change, by Elizabeth Jane Howard

This book tells the story of four people: Emmanuel, a successful playwright, his wife Lilian, manager Jimmy and secretary Alberta, as Emmanuel's work takes them from England to America and then Greece. Lilian is very sickly, and is still mourning the daughter Sarah, who died fifteen years earlier at the age of two. Alberta appears very innocent in the ways of the world but her virtuous character and intelligence (she's a bit like Dorothea Brooke) soon cause her to become much more closely involved with the other three than any of them had anticipated.

The book is structured into a series of sections which each has four chapters: each chapter focuses on one of the characters. Emmanuel's chapters are written in the third person; all the others are first person narratives. Although this allows for overlapping accounts of the same event from different perspectives, in fact Howard doesn't use it for this purpose very much: rather you get to sympathise which each of the characters individually, and can see both sides of situations where misunderstandings occur.

As with her other work, the prose is very good, and the characters believable, and all are sympathetic. The section set in Greece was especially good at evoking the atmosphere of the island where they were holidaying, in terms of the sun, sea, food and langour that characterised their stay there.

Unfortunately I left this book behind when I went on holiday and so read a different book in the middle, which disrupted the flow a bit, but it was a good read nonetheless.

Completed : 16-Sep-2004

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