Although I haven’t had time to read 300 Days of Sun by Deborah Lawrenson yet, I was so intrigued by the story line that I had to ask her onto Linda’s Book Bag to tell me about the theme of identity that so obviously runs through the book.
300 days of Sun is available here in e-book and paperback.
300 Days of Sun
Travelling to Faro, Portugal, journalist Joanna Millard hopes to escape an unsatisfying relationship and a stalled career. Faro is an enchanting town, and the seaside views are enhanced by the company of Nathan Emberlin, a charismatic younger man. But behind the crumbling facades of Moorish buildings, Joanna soon realizes, Faro has a seedy underbelly, its economy compromised by corruption and wartime spoils. And Nathan has an ulterior motive for seeking her company: he is determined to discover the truth involving a child’s kidnapping that may have taken place on this dramatic coastline over two decades ago.
Joanna’s subsequent search leads her to Ian Rylands, an English expat who cryptically insists she will find answers in The Alliance, a novel written by American Esta Hartford. The book recounts an American couple’s experience in Portugal during World War II, and their entanglements both personal and professional with their German enemies. Only Rylands insists the book isn’t fiction, and as Joanna reads deeper into it, she begins to suspect that Esta Hartford’s story and Nathan Emberlin’s may indeed converge in Faro—where the past not only casts a long shadow but still exerts a very present danger.
A Question of Identity
A Guest Post by Deborah Lawrenson
When I was growing up, the simple question, “Where do you come from?” had no simple answer. I was asked it often as I was always the new girl. As a diplomatic service family, we moved across Europe, the Middle East and Asia and back again, interspersed with a few years every now and then in London.
I went to ten schools, starting with an international convent in Peking (as it was), and including an American school in Brussels and a village school in Luxembourg. Home was less the bolt-hole in London than it was the books and crockery that marked our camp in foreign places. It was always clear, too, that the question of where I came from was actually another way of asking “Who are you?”.
Perhaps inevitably, states of flux and identity have always interested me. Perhaps that’s why I like to write recognisable landscapes into my novels; the places are the anchors of the story and the human characters reveal themselves in the way they react and adapt to the setting.
Questions about identity run through my new novel 300 Days of Sun. It’s an issue that can be hard enough to answer in normal circumstances. But what happens if a child grows to adulthood and discovers he is not the person he thought he was? For Nathan, in the present-day storyline, personal history is shattered. His understanding of his family, his childhood, his place in the world, is revealed to be a lie. How can he ignore the urge to find out the truth? Would it even be possible to ignore what he now knows?
Joanna, a journalist, is also re-evaluating her life. When she and Nathan meet in Faro, Portugal, she is wondering how to make a new start. He recognises her strengths, and asks her to help him. Her determination to be true to herself, come what may, is crucial.
For Alva, in wartime Lisbon, the moment she changes her perception of her circumstances – and her marriage – is when she realises that her husband has no intention of taking her “home” to America. She is forced to adapt to life in Portugal, and in doing so, becomes someone entirely different.
And while Nathan and Alva are in the process of change – change neither of them has sought in the first place – the world around them is unstable, too. Violent storms re-draw coastal geography. Nature cannot be contained even with modern sea-barrier engineering. Economic and political power shifts undermine the individual.
Perhaps appropriately, this novel has several different genre elements. It’s part historical fiction, part romantic suspense, part literary thriller. I always try to write in a way that transports the reader to a setting, capturing a vivid sense of place and I research carefully to make the imaginary experience as accurate as possible, whether that is the smells of the old town, or the soft shushing sounds of the Portuguese language.
Is this evocation of place a way of finding a calm still centre in the wild uproar of life? I sometimes think so. As a writer, I’ve become more and more aware that each book I offer a story to the reader – and a complex weave of subconscious thoughts to myself. Sometimes it has been years after a novel was published that I realise (or allow myself to realise) what the story was really about.
But I’m pretty sure that with 300 Days of Sun the time had come to think about all those border crossings and classrooms full of unfamiliar faces, and the fear and excitement of having to start all over again.
About Deborah Lawrenson
Deborah Lawrenson spent her childhood moving around the world from Kuwait to China, Belgium, Luxembourg and Singapore with diplomatic service parents. She read English at Cambridge University and worked as a journalist in London. She is the author of eight novels, including the critically acclaimed The Art of Falling, which was a WHSmith Fresh Talent novel, and The Lantern, which was picked as a summer read for the Channel 4 TV Book Club in 2011. She lives in Kent and spends as much time as possible at a crumbling hamlet in Provence, the atmospheric setting for The Lantern