11 January 2015

vintage book review: A Compass Error by Sybille Bedford (1968)

It is the 3rd novel on this family's history. I did not know this when I purchased it at the book shop. Actually I knew nothing of the book or author. It tells the story of Flavia, an intelligent teen living in South of France. What starts like an account on Flavia's daily life and adventures, soon develops into a draped memoir, sometimes too long. The moral of the story is how an innocent mistake can have such a destructive power.

The story is set in the South of France in the 30s, time when people could already smell the threat coming from Germany. Flavia (I forget her age, but I know she was in her teens) is studying for the university entrance exams by herself. Her days are spent swimming in the mornings and studying in the house with a tower. Amidst her lonely simple days, she befriends a French woman and soon her evenings becoming filled with long dinners and laughter. Flavia becomes aware of her own desires and experiences her first encounters with crushes, seduction and sex. But who is this mother who leaves her teenage daughter in a foreign country all by herself? Flavia will tell us all about it in very long monologues (which I didn't quite enjoy). If you haven't read the previous novels I expect you'll feel a bit lost at first, sort of like I did, but soon you'll get the whole family history.

Conclusion. I liked Sybille Bedford's writing and I really enjoyed the beginning of the book. I had high expectations after reading the first few pages. I just wish it had stayed more focused on Flavia instead of going through all that memoir narrative. Yes, it made us comprehend her mother's character, but I'm still not convinced it was necessary at all. I wish the memoirs had been cut out of the novel tbh... This is the only reason why I am tempted not to try any of her other novels.

I would suggest probably starting from the first novel "A Legacy" and working your way through this one in order to enjoy the parts I dreaded. You'll probably like "A Compass Error" if you're interested in same sex teen angst. I'm not sure I would suggest it otherwise.


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