Publishing Date: January 2017
My Rating: 4/5
I’d like to thank Macmillan publishing via Netgalley for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes Much appreciated!
Love is the single biggest inspiration in popular culture. Literature, theatre, art, movies, television…there is no shortage of human fascination with the condition. In Nadia Marks’ debut novel, love is explored from the perspective of the four types defined in classic Greek culture: agape, the big love; storge, the love of a mother; philia, friendship; and eros, for sexual love.
Anna Turner has everything she has ever wanted in life: a loving husband, a career she loves, and two adoring children who are nearing adulthood. However, in a moment her idyllic existence is thrown asunder by her husband Max’s confession of an affair. Mired in grief and betrayal, Anna flees to Greece with her father to escape the shattering realization that her marriage, and ultimately her perception of self, is less perfect than she once thought it was. While in Greece, she meets people who fit into all of the categories of Greek love and discovers long-buried family secrets that open up a whole new perspective on love, home, and family.
On its face, this book is mainly escapist romanticism. Who wouldn’t want to work out their issues on a beautiful Greek island, surrounded by loving, supportive family and friends, whilst having an affair with a gorgeous Greek artist? But there is more to it than that. It raises questions of the meaning of home: is it where you are born, where you have spent the majority of your life, or where you identify most with the people and culture that defines who you are? It opens up a deeper discussion of love: who are the people in our lives that fulfill our need for different types of love? Can we experience each type differently and how do those feelings change over time? Can we experience agape, the Big Love, with more than one person at the same time? There is a lot to think about here.
Family secrets is popular fodder for any novel these days. Anna is treated to the history of her father’s first Big Love. Without any spoilers, there is a little bit of ick in this part of the book. The reader definitely needs an open mind to treat this as any other love story. I think that Nadia Marks did a competent job of providing the background and explanation the audience needs to overlook the understandable social stigma surrounding the type of relationship described in this book. I was able to mostly overlook my reservations. Have I piqued your curiosity yet?
Marks’ writing contains a lot of black and white with very little grey and can be frought with contradiction at times. There are some decidedly dark twists and turns in this book. From Anna’s father comes the story of not just his family, but her mother’s as well. Anna has the distinctly difficult task of seeing her parents as “real people” with feelings, desires, and difficulties all their own. However, I noticed that her characters radiate an impressive, almost inhuman, capacity for understanding, wisdom and kindness. This can be both heartwarming and contrived at times. It certainly doesn’t add much to the realism of the book, but one can appreciate that these are simply characters who each serve a purpose in the story.
Set against the backdrop of World War II, this book is an oddysey of its very own with family history, tragedies, passion, war, and the enduring power of love. I had to take a bit of an issue with what I saw as the excusing, if not condoning, of extra-marital affairs. But those are my hang-ups. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anna’s journey and felt the palpable tension as a confrontation with her philandering husband drew near and she was forced to confront the various meaning of love and the changes that take place in every heart when bigger forces are in play. I must say that it is slightly formulaic in its “middle aged, heartbroken woman needs to find herself,” “family secrets revealed,” themes, but all in all it kept me going until the last page. I’m not sure there is much that is significantly memorable here, but there should be lots of opportunity for opinions, thought, and discussion. And, in the end, isn’t that what literature is truly about?