During autumn and winter, when the worst winds howled, the summer lived on in the red and orange and green of the fruit and vegetables pressed into glass jars and sealed.
As the temperature dropped, olive oil went cloudy in the bottle.
Once, when I was still too young to dispute the facts,
warned me that the eerie white shapes held in the oil were imprisoned spirits. Pierre
‘Like ghosts?’ I asked.
‘Will they escape?’
‘If they do, what will we do? Will they catch us if we run?’
‘We will be pinned to the ground, unable to move, while they do terrible things.’
From The Lantern
There are floating spirits in the olive oil on this stall at Apt market, on a cold morning in early March. Dead-white globular forms have gathered in the golden amber, clusters of crystals that have clumped in low temperatures from the natural waxes in the olive fruit. When the oil warms, they disappear and the product will be none the worse for it - indeed they show this is good quality, natural food.
But how much more fun it is, as a writer, to revert to childhood and imagine ghosts through the characters in a book. Imaginary fears run like threads all through The Lantern, but magnified rather than lessened by the knowledge that what we catch ourselves imagining – and then dismissing as we come to our senses – is always much less of a threat than the truth. On a deeper level, this is a novel about reading and writing and the inner life these activities promote, of the stimulus to the imagination and the way that changes how we see the world.
The novel keys into timeless fears of the unknown, and the uncertainty when the first stages of an idyllic romance are over and real life begins. It’s also a novel of the senses: as well as vivid visual descriptions of the landscape, I’ve tried to evoke smell and taste and sound and feel until there is an inescapable feeling that there is also a sixth sense in play, an instinctive sense of foreboding that cannot be explained rationally.
If paintings, especially impressionist art, show us not what is there but what the artist wants us to see, then a similar claim can be made for painting in words. The writer shines a light into the ordinariness of daily life and suggests there is more, under the skin, if we would only look.