SUMMER LIGHT by Herbert Mason


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At the beginning, this moody miniature first novel seems to promise something relatively fresh, certainly something strongly specific: writer Paul Halcomb, 50, is setting off to spend a month working in a modest summer house on a private island owned by friends; not only will he be ""really alone now"" (except for intermittent, momentary dockings of the mailboat) but, on the voyage out, his watch is broken--he'll be living out of time as well. An engaging setup--and there's firmly grounded interest in the details of Paul's solitude that then begin to accrue: making soup, letting dust accumulate, receiving a letter from his wife (news of an acquaintance's death--should he send a condolence note?). So, even though Mason has already shown some tendency toward limp profundity (Paul bursts into tears inexplicably, something to do with the much-mused-upon ""light""), there's a sense of specialness here. But then, alas, The Girl appears--as she nearly always does in first novels about middle-aged men with the blues She's lovely, uninhibited Barbara, who arrives in a sailboat and is reluctant to leave: she's grieving for her lover--who died of a sudden, surprising cancer while they were bumming around Europe and North Africa--and she wants Paul to be her listener, her comfort. They sail, they make love, they talk and think--mostly about grief, mortality, and ""the light."" Paul is nonplussed (""He was spiritually stuttering""), then fearful, exhilarated, and metaphysical (""Had his desire to withdraw from the cares of the world led him to fantasize himself in the embrace of the legend of a nymph and a wise man?""--he's been reading about Merlin and Niniane). And finally we're left with ponderous platitudes (""All they were left with were their exposed hearts. . ."") and murkily sentimental philosophy. Mason (as Islam-oriented poet and scholar) isn't without talent--but he'll have to rein in his yen for dreamy, weighty pronouncements if he wants to improve upon this sometimes graceful, ultimately ephemeral debut.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1980
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux