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Novel set on CAPE COD

7th July 2021

The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller, novel set on Cape Cod.

Novel set on CAPE COD

This book kept turning up on our Social Media feed and sounded absolutely my kind of read.  And so I entered into the life of Elle Bishop over 24 hours with flashback vignettes of her childhood and adolescence that inform her situation now.

She is with her English husband Peter in the family’s crumbling estate (I say estate, it consists of a house and cabins that have seen better days) in the back woods of Cape Cod. It is 1 August and therefore the height of the summer season. Her mother is there with them, together with the couple’s children, plus regular Summer vacationers living in their houses dotted around the area.

The summer landscape is vivid, with mosquitoes, al fresco dining, conviviality and the buzzing hum of insects all contribute to a wonderful backdrop for the unfolding story.

The book opens as Elle is heading down to the local pond first thing, and as she passes the porch, the vestiges of dinner and merriment with family and friends from the night before catch her eye. The detritus also brings back memories of a passionate and risky encounter against the wall behind the house, and it wasn’t with her husband … he was just a few metres away.

Why now? Why did 2 people decide to consummate their lingering love just at that point in their shared and separate stories?

As the novel unfolds we glean more of Elle’s life, the friendship with Jonas, her mother’s relationship with the utterly unsuitable Leo (who brought the utterly ghastly Conrad into the family as her step brother); we see the ripple effects of  her relationship with her sister, Anna; and the details of her first meeting with Peter in London and his parents’ response to their liaison. Factor in her mother’s emotional absence and the drone of barbed and undermining comments that emanate from her mouth and we gather a bigger picture of Elle in all her complexity. (I so wanted Elle to put a line down for her mother but people often don’t with their parents, do they?). Furthermore there is her biological father’s crass insouciance and that he chooses the new woman in his life over his children.  All-in-all there are significant life changing events that she has had to experience. All these details, laid bare as they were, almost felt like an invasion of Elle’s privacy, it’s all up close and personal.

In her teenage years there is a singular, pivotal event that, of course, stays with her and colours her adulthood.

The readers are left to assemble the blocks of her life, which are presented in piecemeal fashion. Then they have to interpret the described events and experiences as they choose. I really loved the writing style, but the whipping back and forth between now and times past took quite some getting used to – so much so that I was tempted to give up on the narrative on a couple of occasions. Yet something kept me hooked and reading, and now that I have finished the novel it has really stayed with me – that, of course, is the sign of a very good book! It really lingers in the mind…..

The novel is about love and the power it can hold. It is about life and loss and so much more. And now, I don’t know what else to say about it other than give it a go! I am glad I persevered. It is the Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick for July 2021.

Tina for the TripFiction Team

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