Originally published in January 1957, this book features the lives and loves of Emily Bowen, married to Courtney and yet finding herself falling in love with Abe Fielding whilst juggling the demands of motherhood, loss of a child and her place in the world.
This book has a dream like quality to it, written in a daydream manner. Nothing is ever direct, crude or cruel, but rather it weaves a spell around the reader who becomes caught up in the magical time of falling head over heels in love and also yet the discomfort of knowingly cheating on the one who you made vows to.
Emily is a confused woman living within a strained marriage, not quite sure of her place in the world now that she is no longer fulfilling the role of the supportive wife to her husband Courtney, who has lost his teaching job at a prestigious New York school and now finds himself at a loose end, wondering where to go to provide for his family and regain his battered ego.
…she could see, staring and wondering, wondering what it was she felt about the man who lay there, what beyond the habit of love. It was a deeply ingrained habit and there was nothing to have changed it, but she stared with a sort of horror as though daylight would reveal a stranger.
Having previously planned on a sabbatical in Switzerland, they go live in a cosmopolitan town up in the Alps where the extramarital affair begins. Abe and Emily have always had an attraction to each other, but now that Courtney is becoming difficult and aloof as he deals with his wounded ego, it is easier for Emily to justify falling for the overtures of Abe. And the reality is she is a beautiful woman, who wins the attentions of more than just one man in this bustling town.
Emily is also the busy mother to both Virginia, a teenager and a young four year old daughter Connie. To complete the household, Virginia’s friend Mimi Oppenheimer has come to spend the holidays with the Bowen family, the Jewish friend who unexpectedly finds herself dealing with the racist undertones of a Europe that has the Second World War still fresh in its memory.
The affair is only ever described in the earliest stages, with almost nothing more than kissing and a quick fondle in the dark, a welcome change from more modern down and dirty stories. The novel is written in an almost ethereal manner, too beautiful for this world, set in the enchanted reality of the Swiss Alps in the winter time.
For suddenly she realised that there was no decision to be made. Once the dream was over, once the eyes opened to the daylight, there was no choice except to leave the world of the dream.
This is a glorious book, simple and kind, exploring what marriage and love means in a modern world.