CoffeeBook Chick's Reviews > Clair de Lune

Clair de Lune by Jetta Carleton
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's review
Mar 30, 2012

it was amazing

For my full review, click here:

Uncovered fifty years later and published twenty years after the author's death, Clair de Lune is an absolutely gorgeous piece of writing, and it's the kind of book that made me wish I was back in college again, selecting this book to read for my thesis instead of what I did pick.

Jetta Carleton was the bestselling author of The Moonflower Vine in the early 1960s, which captured readers instantly. At some point, history seemed to forget all about this, and it was a book only found in used book stores, but Harper Perennial decided to republish that book as part of their "Rediscovered Classics" series. And thank goodness! Carleton's Clair de Lune subsequently made its way to print as well, and I'm a better reader for it. At the risk of astonishing Carleton and Hemingway fans, hers is a sweet and simplistic style of writing which reminds me just a little bit of him.

The early 1940s is a time of innocence, the pre-war era shielding Americans from the realities of war. I'm an avid fan of films from that time, and while I know it's the movies, it still seemed there was a gentle naivete represented that now has become this glamorous example of a vintage era. I enjoy diving into it, reading about a "simpler time."

Young Barbara Allen Liles, known as Allen, has just secured a position as a teacher at a small college. While dreaming of eventually seeing the world, moving to New York, and becoming a writer, Allen spends each day teaching the stories she loves with her students. Since she's much closer in age with her students than her colleagues, Allen is a little out of place between what she's supposed to be as a figure of authority, and a young woman who wants a little adventure. The close friendship which forms between her and two students becomes a small scandal, one that places the job she's come to love in jeopardy.

After all, this is not a time when friendships like this don't come with rumor, gossip, and innuendo, and when it goes a little bit further, it's even tougher to rein back in. But it's not the whole of this story. There is so much more movement and beauty to it. At the heart of it all, the story is about love: love of books and literature, dreams of the road not taken in life, and the strong fresh love of the very first time, whether it's love with another, or in realizing one's own independence. Both can be heady and overpowering, and Allen experiences this unconventional romance, one that might change the future she's planned for herself. It's the fact that she can make choices without needing anyone's approval that give her strength. It's this empowerment, and feminism encapsulated in a book written more than forty years ago that is absolutely amazing.

Jetta Carleton crafted a brilliantly sweet and sad story of the slow budding of independence for a young woman in an innocent time. I must admit, it's a perfect companion story to recent books I've read such as Jennifer Haigh's Baker Towers and even Stephen King's 11/22/63. It just feels like there is a little bit of magic in the pre-war era. Maybe it's because when you are sheltered from all the things that could break innocence, things really do feel so much easier. I might be swept up in it all, in the powerful honesty of the times, the simple expectations and high standards of a bygone era (or as King calls it, the Land of Ago). I loved everything about this story.

This is what I so enjoy about reading a book that was considered "modern" during its time. We have a pure and perfect glance at what life was like in this "simpler" era, with love, dreams, hope, and regrets filling each long day and quiet night, before a country grew up and learned that innocence, while strong and sheltering, was no longer.

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