This is a rich and intriguing book about a journey; both a physical one, through the countries around the Mediterranean, and also a spiritual/psychological one, as the young main protagonist, Finn, learns about life and himself through the many different people he meets, and through the unravelling story of a young woman he loves, Eve, whose letters to him from his home country of the US provide a central thread throughout the novel. The story is set in 1977 and 1978, and Finn is also seeking the answer to a question abut what really happened to his father, apparently lost in a diving accident back in the 1960's.
The narrative is interwoven with the narrator's desire to follow the same journey as his hero, Strabo, a Greek philosopher, geographer and historian who lived from 64 BC to 24 AD. Smith also stitches into the story the Mediterranean journey of Mark Twain (himself, like Finn, an admirer of the American artist Frederick Church, a painter of sublime landscapes).
I found this a very evocative book full of wonderful vivid colourful accounts of the countries through which Finn travels, and the experiences he has there. The quality of the writing is so high, I felt as if I was going on the journey myself. I particularly enjoyed the author's account of Finn's intense relationship with French girl Francoise - it had a heady, intoxicating feel, just the sort of adventure that one might experience whilst travelling in one's early twenties, seizing life with both hands.
Finn's encounters with many other characters were also vivid and gripping, especially the story of Martino and Galatea in the pension in the Italian island of Ischia, and the friendships in Turkey with travelling companions Ahmet and Dicky Baxter.
My own reservation would be that as this is a long and intricate account, it loses energy at some points, especially in view of the many named characters within its pages - but then it picks up and becomes very much more interesting, especially - inevitably - in countries I have myself visited. At times I found it a struggle to take on board all the information the author packs in, and had to take notes for myself on the initial situation he outlines in the early part of the book. The main cohesive factors are Eve, Strabo and Finn himself, and the choices Finn makes, in regard to his own vocation, and also to his romantic relationships.
As I have discovered in earlier books written by this author, there are some truly outstanding passages of lyrical prose. I love the story of what happened to Finn after he had come down the Mount of Olives on the day before his 24th birthday. I was also totally captivated by the description of his journey across Sinai to St Catherine's Monastery.
The author delivers several big emotional shocks near the end of the novel, which I found tragic and heart-wrenching.
This is a book which helps you to reflect upon your own life; and I believe many readers could identify with at least some of Finn's dilemmas and doubts and longings. I strongly recommend it to those who love an intelligent read, travel, and tales of picaresque adventures with many characters, as well as following through a storyline with high emotional charge.
by S. Robinson
Described as an exciting voice in Contemporary Literature, David Smith's first novel Searching for Amber has been described as "A powerful and notably memorable debut" and "beautiful, dreamlike and beguiling". David is a blue chip Chief Financial Officer and lives in West Sussex with his wife and three teenage children.