Just read, The Chateau by William Maxwell

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Oh dear, I haven’t been posting much lately, I haven’t been posting at all… What has happened is that I have thoroughly underestimated how much time I’d have to spend on study this time around. I’ve been studying part time for several years, inching my way to a history degree while working. I’ve been enjoying it immensely but the course I’m doing at the moment, on 20th century just has a huge amount of reading – some compulsory but mostly it’s all been so interesting that I can’t quite help myself so I read more and more: have already bought 14-15 books on top of what’s available through my course so this has basically taken over my life… Anyway, William Maxwell’s The Chateau arrived a few months ago as part of my Daunt fiction subscription and I picked it up – not deliberately other than on some subconscious level, perhaps, just as we were studying postwar reconstruction in Europe and Marshall Plan. As it happens, Harold and Barbara Rhodes, the couple at the centre of the story travel to France in 1948 to spend the summer and it was interesting to compare a fictional account with the political, social and economic I studied. It is a grand tour of sorts, albeit one that deals with search for friendships and intimacy rather than art and architecture of the old world. Barbara and Harold are a happy couple but many of the characters they meet are not. For the French, there are burdens of years spent under German occupation, of wartime destruction, rationing. The Americans, on the other hand, appear to have it all, confidence, youth, nylon stockings, sugar and hunger to see, experience, do. ┬áMuch of the story takes place at the chateau where Barbara and Harold spend a couple of weeks and later in Paris where they see some of the people they’d met at the chateau again. There are uncomfortable silences, stilted conversations and misunderstandings, not helped by the language barrier when all Barbara and Harold want is to be accepted, to be open with everyone they meet, to make friends. Barbara and especially Harold spend a lot of time worrying whether they have said or done the right thing, hurt when it seems that someone they’d reached a level of intimacy with one day, reverts back to coolness or aloofness next time they meet. I enjoyed this book a lot, it is a wonderful study of character, what we present to the world and what we keep inside. Beautifully written and engaging, it’s a rewarding read. I’ve already passed it on for others to enjoy. I think it will be doing the rounds for some time.