The Courtyard in August

If you look out of your aircraft window as the plane taxis across the Roissy tarmac, you will see the rabbits – hundreds of them, burrowing in the earth next to the runway. Nell Marchand – an English chief purser at Air France, gazes at the rabbitsas her flight arrives from Tokyo but she doesn’t see them. Nell is worried. Nell is always worried and today her worries are about the summer heat, moving house and betrayal.Paris is too warm, Tokyo was too warm- she has just flown over her native England and noticed with a gnawing anxietythat it is parched and brown. Nell has always preferred places to people and this gradual transformation of the world that she has flown around for years terrifies her. Nell is also concerned about her approaching move from Chantilly to Provence where her pilot husband, Luc, wants to spend his retirement. Nell, who rarely sees her husband is anxious about that retirement. But within days of the Tokyo flight, Luc is hi-jacked while flying a cargo plane carrying several hundred cans of baked beans, fifty containers of oversized women’s underwear and a lone dolphin. The dolphin’s handlers are believed to be responsible for the crime. “Return our relatives to the seas” is the slogan of these ecological terrorists. With the house in Chantilly already sold and the purchase of the new home in Provence puzzlingly cancelled by Luc, Nell is left to wait out the sizzling summer alone in his old bachelor flat on the Paris courtyard.

She is drawn into the lives of her neighbours: prim, mysterious Mademoiselle Marina who plies her transsexual trade in the Bois de Boulogne at night; and carefree, careless Mort, the American TV weatherman whose failure to cover a hurricane has cost him his job. Back in England Nell’s father is terminally ill. As she flies back and forth between Roissy and Heathrow, Nell discovers that her father has been living a double life. And that her mother knew and seems to understand. A confused, unhappy Nell attempts to cope with these latest dramas as she has always coped: by reducing the whole, immmense baffling world down to a collection of small, routine tasks. But as the summer progresses, she learns that work and duty are not always enough. Faraway places are not always enough. And that whether she likes it or not, her destiny is entwined with transsexuals, an irritating American weatherman and those hundreds of rabbits out at Roissy…

1 comment:

Val said...

After reading Janette Griffiths' " The Singing House" and loving every word of it, it was with such a sense of anticipation and excitement that I read her second novel "The Courtyard In August" and I was not at all disappointed.

What an atmospheric novel this is.
France in summer - the heat, the courtyard which is witness to many events, the sounds and the smells - all brilliantly portrayed.
There is a wonderful contrast between the practical and the poetic as seen here:

" Once on a night flight to Santiago in the early days of their relationship, Luc had called her into the cockpit, pointed out various constellations and talked as he often did about the beyond and what lay beyond the beyond.....And he had seen that early passion and thought that it was the same as his and that they were bound to be united. On such lies is love founded, thought Nell as she failed to find any sense of mystery in the busy summer heavens. All she could see was a plane headed for Orly, the glorious excess of the Eiffel Tower and a sudden whitening of the night sky over by the Seine as a bateau moche, prying spotlights blazing, sailed past."

Having spent some time as an air stewardess, Janette Griffiths is in a position to recount experiences from a first-hand point of view, not having to rely on her imagination or the experiences of others.
" I do this sometimes instead of counting sheep. I go through an imaginary flight, step by step. I like the routine of it...."

The plot moves from the hijacking of the plane which Luc, Nell's husband is flying to the courtyard of the buildings where Nell lives, to the American man Mort's experiences, sleeping in the coutyard because of the heat and listening to Mlle Sofia and 'his transsexual neighbours' and the rich panoply of characters who form the cast of the book.

Mort says to Nell:
"And all my life I've dreamed of living in an apartment like yours - on a mysterious courtyard - with cobblestones."
His experiences give him a focus for his future but Nell is facing 'the blankest,emptiest path she had ever known."

At the end of 'the hottest summer on record' there are still many events which will happen in the courtyard in August.

This book is written by a consummately skilled writer, able to create and maintain an atmosphere, with the experience to describe events intelligently and the ability to create characters about whom the reader cares, long after the book is closed