A fabulist debut novel tells the story of an older couple on an unexpected voyage.
Harold and Mary Rose Grapes live in the most remote house at the highest point on Brent Island. They’ve spent 35 years there mourning the loss of their son, Dylan, but now the government is evicting them from their swiftly eroding cliffside dwelling and relocating them to a retirement home. But on the night before they are to move, a massive storm blows in and tears the house from its perch: “The last section of earth supporting the house broke away from the rest of the cliff. The cable groaned and finally snapped. The yellow house, along with a section of garden attached to the foundation, began to freefall toward the white-capped sea.” Luckily, when the foundation of the house hits the ocean water below, it floats. Harold links this miracle to the “petrified air pockets” in the island’s volcanic rock. An astonished Mary Rose asks: “You think that the rock around the basement is supporting the house? It’s why we’re floating like a cork instead of sinking?” Stranded at sea without electricity, water, or much food, Harold and Mary Rose must reawaken their past ingenuity in order to survive. Contending with dangerous animals and icebergs, the Grapeses sail their house as best they can, slowly leaving behind all the things tying them to the past: their grief, their property, the island that they never left. As they move toward a mysterious light on the horizon, they discover that even in their old age, life has surprises in store for them. More importantly, they still have the capacity to amaze themselves. Reina, as translated from the Spanish by Nelson (A Love for Rebecca, 2013), writes in a lyrical prose that highlights the magic of his magical realist premise: “Pieces of paper slipped like eels hiding between boxes and broken furniture.…Sunlight fell on the thick bottom of a broken drinking glass, passing though it like the glass was a prism, its light spraying into a fan of colors.” The book is wonderfully paced and suitably tense without ever drifting into melodrama. It reads like a cozy, middle-grade fantasy novel, but for an adult audience. The ending is perhaps a bit easy, but Reina succeeds in crafting a resonant fable of life’s autumn years.
An enjoyable, finely written fantasy tale.