Wednesday, December 17, 2014

"The First of July"

Elizabeth Speller studied Classics at Cambridge University. She is the author of The Return of Captain John Emmett and The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, both of which received stellar critical acclaim. She lives in England.

Speller applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, The First of July, and reported the following:
To my relief I’m quite pleased with Page 69 of The First of July.

My novel follows the lives of four men, of different nationality, class and ambition and with very different hopes and fears, as they are sucked into the Great War. Frank is a working class Londoner, bent on self-improvement and obsessed with bicycles. Jean-Baptiste is a French runaway from his home on the Somme River, Benedict an organ scholar at one of Britain’s greatest cathedrals and Harry is British by birth but long established as a wealthy businessman in New York and newly married to a beautiful young American.

On page 69 Harry and his wife, Marina, set off by ship from New York on their honeymoon to Europe in May 1914. Of course (and this is a common dramatic trick of historical novels) the reader knows the timing is not propitious. But, also, by page 69 it is clear Harry is not quite the man he seems and has secrets that have kept him from Britain for several years, although the nature of these are yet to be revealed.

By the page end they are docking in Venice but for most of it the couple are in their stateroom, bantering with each other. They plan how they will escape their countrymen in Italy, bar the traditional necessity of seeing the Colosseum by moonlight, argue about the relative poetic demerits of the British Shelley and Byron v the American Longfellow, and then they make love, with an intensity that catches Harry by surprise.

But the page starts with Harry lying awake at night, disturbed by vague premonitions of the fragility of even the most protected lives. Beside him his bride, Marina, sleeps peacefully:
Beneath them and the first class warmth of their cabin lay fathoms of water, and his imagination travelled downward into the rocky abysses, getting colder and darker until finally, all light was extinguished.
Learn more about the book and author at Elizabeth Speller's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Speller and Erwin.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Speller.

--Marshal Zeringue