Sunday, February 21, 2016

Staff Review: The Rocks by Peter Nichols

My review focuses on the audio version of The Rocks by Peter Nichols because while I'm sure the novel is a fine read on paper (or screen), the audio edition is fantastic. Steve West, who narrates the entire book, deserves the audio equivalent of an Oscar (and, in fact, was nominated twice for an Audie Award in 2015 alone). He's intelligent, appealing, and just overall amazing, equally at home with male and female characters, patricians and proles, the young and the old, the honorable and the dissolute, Parisians, Brits, Hungarians, Italians, Americans. Anybody. The novel bursts to life through his many voices.

The quirk (and at times this reader's confusion) with the book is that it unfolds backwards through time, opening in 2005 with a big splash (literally) and then moving into the past in increments, all the way back to 1948. The Rocks of the title is a lovely hotel perched over the water on the coast of Mallorca. Its proprietress, a commanding woman named Lulu, has been running the hotel for decades and serves as hostess to a tight-knit group of more or less degenerate ex-pats. The arc of her life and its early, brief intersection with the life of a Homer-loving islander named Gerald form the central plot of the novel. Lulu and Gerald each have a child, a boy and a girl whose lives intersect throughout, and their stories are told too.

Few of the novel's characters are entirely likable and the preponderance of missed opportunities, misunderstandings, failures, and sad regrets may wear on the reader's patience and psyche. What kept me going was not only the fabulous Steve West but also the way the book vividly re-creates its times and places -- Mallorca present-day or Morocco in the seventies, for example -- and the genuine voices of the island's denizens, which rarely hit a false note, whether it's a lecherous old has-been rambling on and on, the village police chief, the shop-owner who sells Gerald's almonds and olives, or Gerald himself, gentleman and scholar. The achievement of the book is that even while you're put off by the characters' decadence, or triviality, you still kind of wish you were lying on a sun-bleached rock among them, ocean beside you, sangria in hand.  

~Ann, Adult Services

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