One of the lovely things about being an amateur book blogger is that people often lend me things to read, which they’ve enjoyed, and/or think that I might like. In this way, I get to find out about authors I may not have heard of. So it was with a friend who lent me ‘The South in Winter‘ by Peter Benson.
‘Tread Lightly‘ is a travel guide with an ethical stance, and Matthew Baxter is one of their contributors. Packed off to Italy in winter, he is tasked with writing about the places from the perspective of an off-season visitor, not just a high season tourist. Back in London, the offices of ‘Tread Lightly‘ are undergoing some changes, one of which turns out to be bad news for Matt.
Written in the first person, a device which gives an immediacy to the narrative, the novel also portrays Matthew’s relationship with Cora. Their love affair seems to have been an on-off relationship, which is currently off. But there is sufficient tension in the to make the reader hope it might one day be on. Even though Matthew seems like a bit of a twit, and Cora is really not all that likeable. Maybe I had a sense that they deserved one another.
A fair bit of the plot is moved on via dialogue, some of which is very true to life. The problem being, that a real-life conversation is often not very interesting, with its pauses, broken sentences, non sequiturs and misunderstandings. All of these things are intensified because Matt and Cora are communicating via phone and text message, but I felt like a voyeur, a slightly uncomfortable eavesdropper.
Because Matt is writing for a travelogue, there are descriptive paragraphs intended for the ‘Tread Lightly‘ guide and I enjoyed these, even consulting Google maps a few times to see what places like Ravello and the Amalfi coast actually look like. (I went to the Amalfi coast for my honeymoon. If the internet is to be trusted, Sorrento has changed a bit in 28 years!). Certainly food for thought for future trips and a clever plot device.
I thought this was a very realistic book, with credible characters and a plausible setting, but in some ways it lacked dynamism as a result. I like my fiction to be a bit less true-to-life. If it’s introspection I crave, my navel is as interesting as the next person’s!