Friday 1 November 2019

The Light of Amsterdam

I read 'Travelling in a Strange Land' by David Park earlier this year, and picked out 'The Light of Amsterdam' from the library recently. It draws together a group of people and their disparate circumstances onto a flight to Amsterdam. They go their separate ways but their paths cross and recross several times over the weekend, gently intermingling their stories as they seek advice and consolation from strangers. I enjoyed it partly for the picture of Amsterdam, having enjoyed our visit there so much a couple of years ago, he evoked the atmosphere of the place well even though the characters were not being 'tourists' particularly. All the characters have their own troubles and backstory and their time away from their ordinary lives allows them a space to stop and think through what they want to do. It was all just very low key and thoughtful. A understated book that shows the human condition in all its sapping weaknesses and quiet strengths.

Here Karen talks to her daughter Shannon about her newly emerged relationship with her estranged father:

"'How much?' She shivered then started as a tram rattled round the corner, its warning bell a loud clang that seemed to echo inside her head. She felt sick. There was a shrill shunt and a wheeze of brakes as the tram stopped in front of them and people emerged from the opened doors. She glanced up at the illuminated faces behind the glass and saw them looking down at her. She turned her eyes away. There was no way of knowing what her daughter might say any more. The tram snaked into the mist and they were alone again.
'Twenty thousand pounds. He's giving us twenty thousand  to put down as a deposit. He knows a builder who's doing some town houses out near Dundonald and we're getting first choice of the site. And they're turnkey, which means everything's already done for you - the kitchen, floors and everything. All you have to do is put your furniture in.'
'And you think twenty thousand pounds makes everything alright?' She stared at her daughter but Shannon continued to keep her eyes fixed in front. 'Twenty thousand pounds - that's a thousand pounds for every year he wasn't there for you.' But as she said it she knew it was over. Shannon had been bought out and there was nothing she could put on the table to change that. She slumped back empty-handed against the glass and it felt cold on the back of her head. Faced with the hard currency and the power of money, what could compete? All the years she has scrimped and saved, the years she went without, all the times she got up half-asleep in the middle of the night to look after her, even the nine lonely months she carried her - none of these could be traded in for the deposit on a house. And so everything she had given her daughter was in the past and it was her father who was to give her the future. She felt the sickness in her stomach again and she knew she would have cried if that had been something allowed to herself." (p.292-3)

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