The Drowned Phoenician Sailor shouts quality before one even gets to chapter 1. No other writer (to date) has given me Stevie Smith and T.S. Eliot to get me into the right frame of mind; and then that first paragraph: "...the cat, eyeballing me into subservience" - BLISS, like slipping into a warm jacuzzi, prior to being massaged by words precisely chosen and arranged in just the right order.
This is Lesley Hayes at her best, and a superb best it is: sharply analytical, deeply observant about the vagaries of the human character and reliably lyrical in her use of language. You just know you’re in a very safe pair of well-informed, wittily writerly hands.
The story chronicles an interesting period in the life of Fynn, short for Fiona (the name her controlling, unfaithful father insisted on). She also goes by the name of Kaya – her ‘soul’ name given to her by her now “aging hippie”, very likeable mother. Lesley Hayes has told us in her “Meet My Character” blog (http://bit.ly/WbKT8S ) that “it’s in using her ‘soul name’ that she discovers more of who she really is throughout the course of the novel.”
Fynn/Kaya tells us quite early on, she’d “had a happy childhood. Well, no more miserable than most!” However, in adulthood, particular memories kept returning to ‘haunt her’ – hence the need for her therapist Paul, who “loved life” and “lived love”. His sudden, unexpected death leaves her with unfinished business, and she embarks on a journey towards a kind of happiness: a journey guided in a most intriguing way by an unlikely pair of “ghosts”.
One of the things I love most about Lesley Hayes’ books is the entertaining way in which I learn so much about people and the different ways they find to deal with their experiences of abusive behaviour – some by abusing in their turn and others by incredible feats of forgiveness, reinvention and renewal. In consequence, I feel better able to deal with the vagaries of my own existence having read them, and that is no mean feat.
Fynn’s father was “anything but” a father figure, and her mother was “a fallen angel”. Does that ring any bells for anyone? Fynn says “I always saw in her the absence where someone should have loved her more.” In savouring this book I highlighted hundreds of passages like that, at least one on every page: deep, questioning, thoughtful, perceptive observations in a smooth and cultured prose.
Above all it’s a hopeful book, ending with Fynn/Kaya discovering “what it’s like when you are happy” (it’s all so simple, really); by which time we are acutely aware “how intricate are the strands of connection that the universe weaves.”
I recommend this book without reservation.