A new novel, by one of my favourite novelists about one of my favourite poets: how could I resist reading this? This is the third in Steven Carroll’s ‘Eliot Quartet’. I wonder how long I’ll need to wait for the fourth book?
A New England Affair by Steven Carroll
‘And in the end, all her waiting had come to nothing.’
In 1965, Emily Hale hears that T S Eliot is dead. She is seventy-two. She heads off to Gloucester, Massachusetts, in her Ford Roadster. With a satchel of letters, Emily Hale is heading by fishing boat to the Dry Salvages (off Cape Ann, Massachusetts). And as the boat heads out to sea, Emily Hale reflects on her life with T S Eliot. They fell in love, in 1913. But when Tom Eliot left the USA for England, left Tom Eliot to become T S Eliot, their relationship shifted. What might it have been? What if Emily Hale and Tom Eliot had married? If, instead of his confidante and muse, she’d become his lover and wife?
In this novel, in this telling, Emily Hale waits for an opportunity which never arises. She hopes, but knows not how to move beyond.
‘That’s what hope does. Feeds you the story you want to believe. Except it’s not a story, it’s your life.’
And the satchel of letters? What does Emily Hale intend to do with them? Has she the courage? This novel traverses the lifetime of Emily Hale’s relationship with T S Eliot over the course of the day she spends at sea. Emily Hale, fixed in place physically for most of the novel, moving between past and present, remembering and regretting.
This is the third novel in Steven Carroll’s Eliot Quartet. Each novel looks at a different aspect of T S Eliot’s life, and this is Emily Hale’s story, of a love which never found the right time or place. It’s a story of unrequited hope, of opportunities missed or somehow misplaced. I’ve read and enjoyed the first two novels in the quartet (‘The Lost Life’ and ‘A World of Other People’). I will now wait – patiently, as I must– for the fourth.
Steven Carroll is one of my favourite novelists and T S Eliot is one of my favourite poets. I’m really enjoying these novels. I sometimes feel annoyed with both the T S Eliot and the Emily Hale portrayed in these pages, and I wonder. Why did Emily Hale continue to wait?
‘We wished for one thing, and History gave us another.’
Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Fourth Estate for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes