May 31, 11
Read in May, 2011
What more tempting place can there be than a library's used bookstore? In this case, the venue was the Berkeley Public Library's store, and the find was a Hugh Walpole novel. I knew almost nothing about Walpole other than his name being notable, and nothing at all about this book, but what a great page-turner it was, even allowing for its excesses of romanticism and sometimes exaggerated characters.
The protagonist is Peter Westcott, whom we meet as a boy in his native Cornwall, living with a brutal father (every English novel has to have one brutal father, right?), his sickly mother, his demented grandfather and a kindly but none too knowledgeable servant. These are the people of his household, but the master of his heart is Stephen Brant, a giant of a farmer who loves Peter and also is hopelessly smitten with a woman who married a rival.
Peter goes to the obligatory bleak boarding school, where he meets two friends of very different temperaments who will play major roles in his life later, and afterward, rebelling against his father's insistence that he stay at home, he goes to London in the company of the mysterious Mr. Zanti, where he works in a used bookshop, lives in a boarding house jammed with Masterpiece Theater character actors, and works on his first novel, which eventually is published to great success.
The latter half of "Fortitude" plays out the rocky beginning of his marriage to the beautiful, vain Clare, who seems to have little interest in his writing and little ability to tolerate any stress in her comfortable only-child existence. They have a son together, but then everything seems to unravel, and by the end of the novel, Peter must come to terms with the way life really is, the fickle dealings of fame and fate, a realization that he has let go of people who truly loved him, and a determination nevertheless to persevere through it all.
Yes, it's a Victorian soap opera, but I was pulled through at every turn.