Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review: The Rocks by Peter Nichols

For the last few months, it seems like every 'Must-Read Summer Books' list included The Rocks by Peter Nichols. Over and over, this book has been compared to Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins, and since most of the story takes place along the rocky cliffs of Mallorca, it's the quintessential beach read, if you aren't going on vacation this year and want to pretend you are sitting by the Mediterranean sea. It's not really a breezy book but I definitely felt transported just a few chapters in.

The Rocks starts off in 2005 with a short chapter detailing a tragic accident. From there, the book is told in descending order, moving backward from the present into the past where there are layers and layers of history between the four main characters.  Lulu and Gerald had been married for a very short time after World War II, but after an incident (details which are unknown to everyone), they separate, and although they live within a few miles of one another, they manage to only run into each other three times over sixty years. Luc is Lulu's son from her second marriage, and Aegina is Gerald's daughter from his second marriage.  The heart of this story lies with Luc and Aegina.

This book is lovely and heartbreaking and crushing all at once. As I read and the years went further and further back, I started to fear that Nichols wouldn't give the reader another 'present day' chapter at the end, but I was wrong to worry. The second-to-last chapter of The Rocks was the emotional payoff for which I'd been waiting.  It made me cry, and then later when I shared the end with my husband, I teared up again.

I think the thing that got to me most is that The Rocks is all about misunderstandings and missed connections. Life for Lulu, Gerald, Luc and Aegina would have been so different if they had known some big, important things. Maybe they could have had happier lives; maybe they would have been more miserable. There's no knowing and that's true in our real, everyday lives as well.

I will say that there are some slow sections. Every time a new year began, it took some time to settle into the new story that was being told. And there was a point when I had a bit of trouble keeping all of the names straight--there are a ton of supporting characters with interesting backstories and European names that start to sound alike around page 250. Keep going, push through and you'll figure out who everyone is eventually (or not, but as long as you remember the main foursome, you'll be fine).

Final verdict: yes, I'd recommend The Rocks, whether you're reading on a beach or not.