Picked up the new novel by Sara Taylor, The Shore, because it has an intriguingly beautiful cover – painted images of various shells in the style of those fabulous natural history artists.
The book is really good: beautiful, elegant writing that illuminates and breathes life into the large cast of curious, vital characters: you find yourself raging at some,admiring others, cheering them on, hoping that things will turn out OK. It is unusual, deeply satisfying and evokes an isolated and unusual world.
Set on some small islands off the coast of Virginia, the story follows the triumphs, horrors, everyday lives of two families over 170 years. I say ‘follow’, but not in any consecutive, chronologically-usual way. Each chapter is like a sudden spotlight on a particular time or incident, some people appear several times, some surface never to be seen again, some appear and then only feature in the conversation of other characters, several chapters later. The first chapter is set in 1995, others in 1933, 1885, 2010, 1919, 2037…
Slowly you build a picture of who is whose descendant or ancestor – well I did, because I read an advance copy, I see that the copies in the shops have family trees in the front. If you can bear to, ignore the lure of the ordered world they promise until you finish: I loved the slightly magical confusion and seeming chaos of Taylor’s clever plotting, the immediacy of people’s lives without knowing immediately where they ‘fit’.