I seem to be dashing around Europe at the moment in my reading and this time it’s Harriet and Stephen Latterly who travel to Ibiza by train and boat for their honeymoon.This is Hatty’s story and she begins by telling us that her Aunt Cynthia has died. Married to her Uncle Otway, Cynthia has been a difficult but important relation in Hatty’s life which doesn’t seem to include any one else other than a largely absent, bullying mother who is a master of acerbic lines and black humour.
Every Eye is only 119 pages in my Persephone edition and rather than chapters the story is told in alternate sections, either written in the present tense about the honeymoon or in the past tense when Hatty reminiscences about Cynthia, about her first love Jasper Lomax, (an old friend of Cynthia and Otway’s) and about her first meeting Stephen in France. There’s a lot of jumping around, but I thought the structure worked really well, there’s a naturalness that made it feel very personal.
Hatty has a squint, a lazy eye that her mother calls a deformity. She has an operation to correct it when she’s in her 20’s, but vision is a recurring theme. ‘I am as aware of my corrected squint as if a limb had been removed’, she says; physically hiding herself behind sunglasses and large hats, emotionally she can only see herself ‘in the reflection of another person’s eyes’ and admits she has no idea who she really is. Blurred vision, clear vision, the eye of the camera; she observes other travellers from a distance and reflects on the uniqueness of character that lies sealed within us, that we never show, do we ever reach the moment when we are exactly the person we want to be? Although there’s no answer, in her reminiscing about meeting Stephen we can see that he is going to play a major part in her recovery.
‘How lovely it was to be alive and walking up the village street at ten o’clock in the morning. I curved the soles of my feet luxuriously over the mottled cobbles, round as turkeys’ eggs, that had been brought up from the sea shore perhaps fifty years ago, and felt the heat of two hours’ sun stored in them. The flowering hedges, pink-spiked daphne and trailing syringa, were buzzing with bees.; the deep gloom from the ancient fig trees made pockets of underwater light along the roadside.’
First published in 1956 the sense of place is fabulous, trailing banks of giant blue convolvulus, purple bougainvillea, the wild pinkness of the oleander, hedgerows of broom and rosemary, the stunted grey of the olive trees. ‘a town whose houses cling like seagulls to the sides of a pointed hill.‘ and the charm of the post arriving with letters to be read over the 3 o’clock luncheon.
‘The island is like everything of picture-book quality that I have always wished to believe in: the mysterious paths leading through planes of extraordinary happiness to security off the page, the most powerful safety -valve of escape to the childish eye. Now the richness of colour and texture are here beneath my hands and feet. . . ‘