As a companion piece to my last post about marriage, I thought I would look this week at portrayals of honeymoons. Originally I planned to include On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan but I ran out of time & wanted to re-read it in order to do it justice, as I remember it being very moving. So please don’t let my inadequacy prevent you from checking it out if you haven’t read it 😉 Onwards to honeymoon stories I’ve read more recently!
Firstly, Orkney by Amy Sackville (2013), which is an eerie, claustrophobic tale of a honeymoon taken on a remote Scottish island. Richard is a professor of English literature who is entranced by literary sirens and by his silver-haired wife, forty years younger than he, strange and unknowable:
“She is a tiny, perfect, whittled trinket found bedded in the sand, carved patiently, for comfort; she is a spined and spiky urchin with an inside smooth as polished stone, as marble; she is frond of pallid wrack, a coral swaying in the current, anchored to the sea-bed; she is an oyster, choking on grit, clutching her pearl to her.”
The unnamed wife is obsessed with the sea, taking long, lone walks by day and having water-filled nightmares by night:
And as she dreams her submarine dreams I lie beside her, a whale’s carcass, a wrecked ship, a vast ribcage in the dark blue deep; and she is a tiny luminescent silver fish, picking me clean, in and out of all that’s left of me, bare bones long since freed of flesh and rigging.”
Each chapter covers a day of their honeymoon, told from Richard’s perspective. This is not a plot-driven story as very little happens, in some ways it is quite a slight tale, but I found Sackville’s beautiful writing made it compelling and carried me along. The atmosphere gradually becomes more uncanny, with a sense that is not just Richard’s wife who is unknown, but that there are no certainties at all:
“An overcast, lowering sky this morning; the clouds have clotted through the night. Something gathering, brooding, out on the sea. A darkness spreading. The edges of my wife blur against the sky.”
Orkney is short novel about the stories we tell ourselves and each other, how we understand the world, and how what is real and unreal is not always clearly delineated:
“He tells her tales of the finfolk and selkies. Nothing can replace those first tales, which have coloured the cast of her thought, which have filled her nights with the sea, which are at least as real to her as anything she’s learned of the world since.”
Secondly, the short story Here We Are by Dorothy Parker (1931). A young couple are on a train, having been married “exactly two hours and twenty-six minutes”. Most of the story is dialogue, and they come across as so terribly young and naïve.
“He sat down, leaning back against the bristled green plush, in the seat opposite the girl in beige. She looked as new as a peeled egg. Her hat, her fur, her frock, her gloves were glossy and stiff with novelty.”
They sit and talk about the day, the wedding, those they know, and bicker about silly things: hats, mainly.
“‘Hell, honey lamb, this is our honeymoon. What’s the matter?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘We used to squabble a lot when we were going out together and then engaged and everything, but I thought everything would be so different as soon as you were married. And now I feel sort of strange and everything. I feel so sort of alone.’”
Of course, what they are not saying is that the train is speeding them towards a hotel room, and they are terrified about what is going to happen once they are alone together. The story is a masterclass in ‘show, don’t tell’ writing. Parker’s trademark acerbic wit is not to the fore – the story is gently funny, and I felt sorry for this unknowing couple marrying in such a different age, and desperately hoped it would work out for them.
Speaking of virgins: