The Still Point by Amy Sackville

the still point

Published: 2010 by Portobello Books
My copy: bought on Kindle

Memorable quote: “But a woman cannot live in longing alone. She must have called upon the forbearance that her husband had trusted she held in reserve; she must somehow have found a way through her days.”

This is a modern literary novel (the debut of a Goldsmiths creative writing graduate I believe) which is set partly in the present day, partly in the early 1900s. During the course of a single languorous summer day Julia, an archivist, drifts lazily about the large memory-haunted house she has inherited and contemplates both the tensions in her own marriage and the relationship between the distant relatives whose documents she is cataloguing: Emily Macklin and her husband Edward, who was an Arctic explorer. The real beauty of this book is the way it moves so seamlessly from Julia’s sunlit world to Edward’s frostbitten journey to the top of the world.

This was an enjoyable read, I thought at first it was going to be overly sentimental – too much about pining lovers and great tragic romances, I don’t have much tolerance for that stuff – but as the day progresses there are revelations here that prove Sackville is made of sterner and more pragmatic stuff. In fact the way she writes rather put me in my mind of Virginia Woolf in places, she has that kind of terse, sardonic eye for detail. Macklin is a fictional character but convincingly done (although the real characters and events on whom Sackville draws are only thinly veiled.)

I should probably come clean, I have an idea for a split time-frame story of my own that features an explorer’s wife. I have a notebook on the go and am very slowly collecting information and ideas for this, have been for sometime. So I was a little alarmed when I read the synopsis of The Still Point that some Amundsen might have beaten me to the prize. But now having read the book it’s very different from the tale I hope one day to tell.

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