The Honeymoon by Justin Haythe
Looping gently around one pivotal week - the honeymoon of the title - the narrative concerns the long-delayed week in Venice taken by young photography student Gordon and his wife of almost a year, Annie. Events conspire so that they end up taking their trip with Gordon's mother Maureen and her new partner Gerhardt. Maureen is an enigmatic, complex woman who is in the process of compiling a guidebook for art lovers, an endless project that has kept both her and her son on the move all through Gordon's life. Theirs has been a bohemian, nomadic existence, drifting through various hotels and rented apartments around Europe, spending their days visiting galleries and museums, and the relationship between Maureen and Gordon is inevitably unusually intense. It comes as no surprise to find that Maureen has never really warmed to her new daughter-in-law and, of course, the honeymoon only exacerbates the situation.
This is a wonderfully compelling debut. Haythe is adept at gradually building the tension between the four honeymooners and the narrative is impeccably paced, gently layered yet always arresting. The characters are all carefully drawn and well developed, they crackle on the page. Haythe respects his readers, he takes his time and never gives more information than is needed; the result is a fresh, intelligent novel, an assured and mature piece of writing.
Whether describing London in the first of half of the book or the canals and alleys of Venice towards the novel's close, he maintains a cool distance between his characters and the cities they pass through. He makes it clear that Maureen and Gordon have no real home, that they have no real collection with any one place. Haythe takes care to make clear the emptiness at the heart of their privileged lifestyle, theirs is never really an existence you envy. When they meet a fellow "global nomad"? in Venice, a middle aged divorcee travelling from country to country after the collapse of her marriage, Maureen takes an immediate dislike to her and refuses to acknowledge the similarities between them, in particularly their dependence on wealthy men. It is this stubborn streak that eventually causes so much conflict, her inability to live by any other than her own terms.
As narrator, Gordon remains the most difficult character to visualise. There is a coolness to the way he describes the events that unfold, again that sense of distance is very apparent. Perhaps this is a consequence of being brought up in such a rootless manner, but it also occasionally has the effect of keeping the reader at arm's length, of undermining the novel's emotional impact. However The Honeymoon remains a distinctive, masterly debut and Justin Haythe is certainly a name to look out for in the future.