Edwin Fisher is on a week long holiday in the sea-side town of Bealthorpe. At the age of thirty two he is estranged from his wife and does not have any children. Hence he is alone on his holiday. Bealthorpe has been a frequent holiday destination for his parents also. He remembers coming to the town as a child. On this particular holiday, his solitude gives him the chance to look back on his failed marriage and on his relationship with his father. Interestingly, Fisher’s parents-in-laws are also holidaying in the same town. When Fisher meets his father-in-law, David Vernon, by chance at the local pub, a line of tension is introduced in the novel. Vernon wants Fisher’s marriage to work and will go to great lengths to convince both daughter and son-in-law.
Along with this main story line, some married pairs are presented by Middleton as minor characters in the novel. Their marital relationships offer a point of comparison and contrast to Fisher’s own marriage. Some characters also give a contrast to Fisher’s relationship with his father.
The holiday gains significance when Fisher grows emotionally at the end of the seven day period.
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A modern marriage and a quintessential father-son relationship are presented to us in an unassuming matter-of-fact fashion.
Two individuals decide to get married-none of them perfectly rational human beings. They beget a son who does not live. The resulting vacuum tests the strength of their marital bond. This is a typical modern marriage scenario where individuals can divorce easily; there are so many means of emotional fulfilment that one’s spouse is often a dispensable emotional support. Middleton toys with the importance of sexuality in maintaining/strengthening the marital bond. Henrik Ibsen’s famous play The Doll’s House is taken as a cross reference-‘would she have left him if matters had been sexually right between them?’
The tension between Fisher and his father is relevant to all ages and cultures. The father is a disciplinarian who fails to earn the respect of his young son. The son is able to appreciate the merit of his father’s consistent dedication to his family only after he has become a father himself. Fisher is made to meet a minor character in the novel who grumbles about caring for an aging father who in his times had been the patriarch with the iron hand. Fisher also meets a set of aged and lonely parents who long for the company of their only daughter who has moved to a distant country-Greece. David Vernon is presented as the dedicated father who can go to the extent of bullying his daughter to save her marriage. Such incidences reveal the various complexities of a parent-child relationship and how they are interdependent till the very end.
Simple English, meticulous detailing in descriptions of day-to-day life, matter-of-fact rambling tone- The novel is an easy and quick read.
Cannot say that the novel has left a deep mark on me but it did show how a person can use a break as a purging experience-emotionally, physically and spiritually. Overall, reading the book was a pleasant experience for me.
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