Monday, 12 October 2009

The compass error (Bedford) 133

Last week saw the arrival of the new students at Oxford and the town was suddenly filled with young people looking distinctly lost. On my pile of Viragos I had a copy of The compass error which is the story of a girl studying for Oxford entrance, and that seemed like an appropriate book to read.

It turned out that the Oxford entrance was not really a key part of the book, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It concerns seventeen year old Flavia, who is spending the summer in a villa in Provence whilst her mother, Constanze, goes travelling with her new lover, Michel. She is using the time to study for the Oxford entrance exam, and at the start is applying herself diligently to her work.

I enjoyed this section most of all; Flavia aspires to being a writer and has her career envisioned. She will attend Oxford, and then leave and hope to earn a living reviewing books. From this, she will support herself as a writer. I loved the passage where she considers whether a book reviewer might ever be able to sell their books on to augment their income, or whether a real bibliophiles would actually be able to part with them. (It sounded familiar).

However, one night at dinner in the local restaurant she meets the wife of an eminent painter and is suddenly catapaulted into the adult world of dinners, drinking and love. However, this is no straightforward coming of age. She meets another woman who uses her to track down her mother, since Michel is her ex. Much of the first half of the book is given over to this woman's reminicenses. Flavia faces difficult decisions; should she compromise her happiness for that of her mother.

Just the one publication by Virago, but I see from librarything and Amazon that it has been released more recently by Penguin and also by a number of other publishing houses. According to a review that I read on Amazon, her novels are very interlinked; however only one other of her books is published by Virago, A favourite of the gods.

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