November Books 7) Beach Music, by Pat Conroy

Jeepers, how did this happen? I last did a bookblogging update four weeks ago, and since then have been travelling a lot and also read about a dozen Arthur C.Clarke Award nominees. (One of which, in full disclosure, I gave up half way through.) But I’m still five bloggable books behind for November, and the same (so far) for December. Here is the first step in fixing the backlog.

I liked Beach Music, much more than I liked Conroy’s best-known work The Prince of Tides, but I felt it was not quite the sum of its parts. The parts are all pretty good, so this is not damning with faint praise: the experience of Catholics and Jews, both minority groups in of course rather different ways, in South Carolina in the period of the Vietnam War, with flashbacks to the lived experience of the Holocaust and also a narrative in the 1980s. The core pillar is the slow death of the narrator’s mother; the descriptions of people and places – particularly Rome, which is beautifully conveyed – are all pretty compelling.

I was driven by my frustration that the book didn’t quite add up for me to look at Conroy’s Wikipedia entry, and an now wondering if Beach Music is a partial response to his own earlier work, The Great Santini, about an abusive military father-son relationship. That is also one of the subplots of Beach Music, and clearly one that the author himself is pretty invested in; is the later novel perhaps Conroy’s version of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead? I am sufficiently interested that I may well get the earlier book to make my own judgement.

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