The Rocks
Peter Nichols
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Buy *The Rocks* by Peter Nicholsonline

The Rocks
Peter Nichols
432 pages
May 2015
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Serving up a tale of likable characters confronting love and love’s betrayal, Nichols’ gorgeous novel begins with an argument: the long-held bitterness between Lulu Davenport0--now in her ninth decade--and decrepit looking, overweight and unwell Gerald Rutledge. The barbarity of Gerald’s actions long ago has echoed throughout much of Lulu’s life. Yet Lulu’s filth and venom towards Gerald has been muted amid the ambient and familiar nubs and contours of the rocks and the gentle sounds that rise around their insular, ideal world on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca.

The Rocks begins with Lulu and Gerald rolling together, tumbling off a ledge into the sea. Their death precipitates the arrival of Luc, the son of Lulu, and Aegina, the daughter of Gerald. Both Luc and Aegina have their own private regrets and long-held animosities. With her dark hair and eyes and her olive complexion, Aegina is still ageing Luc’s romantic nemesis. Although still not averse to her attractions, Luc is quick to notice Aegina’s covetous gaze when talking with the police detective in charge of their parents’ case. Although Luc and Aegina may once have imprinted themselves upon each other, theirs is a tangled history. Aegina has managed to avoid Luke for years, having seemingly excised him “like an amputation.”

In the aftermath of her father’s death, Aegina travels to C’an Cabrer, her father’s farmhouse where the shimmering sea opens up ahead of the olive trees. Here she remembers Gerald’s seventieth birthday, during which his grandson Charlie learnt about Gerald’s book of Odysseus’s travels though the Mediterranean, a book that Gerald poured his heart into, giving the modern reader contemporary snapshots of the Homeric world. At the same time, Luc visits his mother at the Villa Los Roques, her little seaside hotel at the eastern end of Mallorca. Lulu is celebrating her birthday party, her house full of young, dark -haired Mallorcan men as well as her numerous guests who wine and dine amid the honeysuckle, bougainvillea, palms, and geraniums.

Thus begins Nichols’s “backwards in time” narrative of Lulu and Gerald and Luc and Aegina, their fates cast in stone, their lives fueled by a feud that adds the weight of decades. The feud unfolded in a moment of quiet rage and uncertainty but hidden behind true passion, which has the power to affect the well-being of following generations. For years Gerald and Lulu were complete strangers to each other, each growing more mystified and estranged.

Nichols bathes his gorgeous melodrama in quiet Mallorcan shades, where the sea is always blue and seductive and the hot noonday midsummer air is full of the electric tinnitus of cicadas. All is reflected in the love and peaceful backwater Gerald first came to know. In the 1970s, scenes of innocent exuberance and sexual awakening alternate: Aegina tires of the lack of privacy, and Luc quietly yearns for a moment of intimacy with her. Lulu’s personality dominates every scene as she becomes a skillful seducer of men and boys. Aging Gerald must learn to survive on a dwindling subsistence income from his bottles of olive oil, all the while achingly aware that he’s made no provision for Aegina beyond the dubious potential of his “moldering property’s value” and the uncertainly of his own old age and inevitably advancing decrepitude.

From the opening pages, Nichols engages the reader with his detailed account of on Mallorca during the '50s, '60s, and late 1940s soon after Gerald is released from the navy. As the reader tunnels back from 2005, the changing point of view causes some headscratching as new characters are introduced, their relationships to each other not quite etched in clarity. Yet Nichols’s story kicks in with gusto and the pages start to turn almost by themselves. Suddenly the characters take their place alongside Lulu and Gerald as we press on to find out what exactly was going on behind the shadows of their fractured passion.

Shepherding his ideas about time and fate and the legend of Odysseus, Nichols succeeds in crafting a tale drenched in Mallorca’s picture-perfect postcard images while also transporting us onto modern-day London, Paris, then onto Morocco. From the white sands below “the rocks” to the waters just off the coast, above which Lulu and Gerald have built their lives together (but also so very far apart), this is a story to relish--seductive, beguiling, and all too real; a clever narrative, compelling characters consumed with love and hate, and a fascinating peek into the sun-drenched ways of Mediterranean life.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2015

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