This novel won the National Book Award in 1977. I have read and reviewed a handful of Mary Lee Settle novels, many of which take place in Virginia and West Virginia in various times in the history of those states. She is most well known for writing what is called the Beulah Quintet–five novels that tell the history of a county in West Virginia, starting with the original settlers being forced out of England during the English Civil War and moving toward the incorporation of the county, strikes related to coal mining, and through contemporary de-industrialization and automation.
This novel is a departure from those novels, but like them, seem organically driven from Mary Lee Settle’s biographical ties. This book takes place in a Turkish coastal town and follows a disparate group of characters tied together through acts of accidental and purposeful violence.
It reminds me a lot of books like The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell and The Raj Quartet by Paul Scott, in its portrayal of Western expectation and presence on a much more complex and complicated Eastern setting.
I found this book challenging to read, not because of the complex language, which is….well complex, but because of the specifically fractured story-telling and the complicated structure. We often spend a few paragraphs to a few pages with a character and then move quickly to a new character. The differences between those various sections are often sharp and quick, and the ties knitting them together are not always clear.
It’s not that different from her previous novels in this way, but something feels off about this one.