I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Title: Sea of Straw
Author: Julia Sutton
Publisher: Cheyne Walk
Release Date: 2016
Genre: Literary, Historical, Romance
Setting: Portugal, UK
Julia Sutton’s debut novel is a gem. The author, also an artist, paints a word portrait with gorgeous yet earthy language, evoking a time and place long past, but still within reach.
While on holiday in Portugal, a chance encounter with a stranger leads the unhappily married Jody into an affair with the enigmatic painter Ze. The first half of the novel is Jody’s point of view. The lovers are recently parted as the story opens, yet Jody had hoped for one last glimpse of Ze before she leaves. She knows he’s afraid, but she’s not sure what of except in the shadow of the civil war with Spain, the secret police are watching everyone.
She returns home to a life that is too tight, too constricted to contain her now. Her unpleasant husband and their families and friends are watching her carefully, too, a smaller reflection of Ze’s life. She struggles to re-acclimate herself to dark, cold Lancashire after long sun-drenched days with Ze.
Jody’s narrative moves forward in time from the start, broken up by her memories of Ze, his friends and family, and his love of culture and of her. The stifling morality of the time, before women’s lib got to Lancashire, reveals itself in the behavior of her family ands some of her friends. Jody re-examines her life and what the future will be like if she doesn’t get back to her real life with Ze.
The second half of the novel is Ze’s narrative. Both lovers conspire to return to the other on the opposite side of the Atlantic, a nearly impossible feat. While Jody is trapped by society’s idea of whom she should be, Ze begins the harrowing and dangerous process of freeing himself to be with her.
A Sea of Straw is a literary love story filled with adventure in the shadow of fascist Europe. Unexpected twists and turns keep me turning the pages, as did the author’s portraits of Portugal and Lisbon. I highly recommend this novel.
On a personal note, I love Lisbon and have ambled about the Alfama and wandered through the castle on the hill while a musician played John Dowland on his lute.