Atlantic View by Matthew Geyer

Connections…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Following his father’s death, Patrick Munchen finds a bundle of letters among his papers, from a girl he knew in Lyme Regis while he was stationed there in advance of the Normandy landings. His curiosity aroused, Patrick sets out to find if the woman is still alive – a journey that will take him from his home in California first to England and then to Ireland, and will lead him to reassess his own life as he discovers more about his father’s.

My usual disclaimer – Matt Geyer has been an online friend of mine for some years now, but as always I’ve tried my best not to let my friendship with him bias my opinion or this review. Fortunately I loved the book, so it wasn’t too difficult!

Geyer writes beautifully and from the heart. There is a distinctively American style to his prose – what I think of as West Coast writing, though I’m no expert. It’s a kind of specific vocabulary that in itself creates a sense, not perhaps so much of place, but of a culture and, dare I say it, a class – educated, liberal, moderate, introspective, male (though that may simply be that my limited reading of American fiction hasn’t covered women writing from the same cultural perspective). While I often find this language style more “foreign” to my British ears than many other American regional variations, I find the attitudes far more in tune with the overarching culture of western Europe and that always makes it easier for me to empathise with the characters.

The book is heavily character-focused, but the plot is strong enough to carry it. On arriving in Lyme Regis, Patrick finds that the letter-writer, Molly Bowditch, no longer lives there but he discovers a few people old enough to remember war-time and the American troops who mingled with the locals while they waited for the order to invade Europe. Later, he follows Molly’s trail to Ireland – to a small island off the Ring of Kerry looking out over the vast Atlantic towards America. As he becomes more involved with piecing together his father’s past, his own present is in flux. His beloved daughter grown and off at college, his career as a journalist in freefall as technology changes the face of the profession, his marriage, once solid, now seems hollow, purposeless. He’s not consciously searching for a new meaning to his life, but perhaps understanding his father will help him to understand himself.

Geyer’s depictions of modern and wartime Lyme Regis are excellent – it’s easy to see the amount of research that has gone into the book, but he uses it lightly to convey an impression that I found believable and authentic in both time periods. Equally so with the troops stationed there, socialising within the community and gradually building connections that both sides knew would be temporary. He shows us these men, knowing that they were about to be thrown into the hell of war, living through this hiatus with a mixture of courage, comradeship and fear. And I found the relationship that grew up between Patrick’s father and Molly just as believable – a kind of reaching for human contact at a time when the future was uncertain and fragile.

Matthew Geyer

When the story moves to Ireland, the setting is just as authentic. Geyer avoids the pitfalls of “Oirishness” – a trap too many American (and other) authors fall into of making Ireland seem quaint and twee and a little fey, populated by characters so eccentric one has to wonder if they’re half-leprechaun. Geyer’s Ireland is the real modern country of his time setting of 2005: revolutionised economically as the Celtic Tiger, advanced technologically and culturally, highly educated. This really shouldn’t be refreshing, but it is – hugely! He catches the distinctive Irish speech patterns and rhythms well but subtly, never over-playing his hand. And his descriptive writing gives a real sense of the lovely ruggedness of the landscape, together with a feel for the harder, poorer past from which Ireland had so recently emerged.

In essence, this is a quiet, reflective book concentrating on one man’s journey, physically across the world, and emotionally from his past towards his future. But we also come to know and care about the people he knows and cares about. There are no villains here, nor heroes – just flawed humans doing their best to understand themselves and each other and make connections as they navigate their lives. Excellent characterisation, three distinct and well-drawn settings, lovely writing and an interesting story – great stuff!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

44 thoughts on “Atlantic View by Matthew Geyer

    • Ha, yes, it’s always a relief when a friend’s book really deserves praise! I was so pleased the Irish bit felt so real because I’m always wary of the way it’s portrayed – like the Scottish Highlands, which tends to get treated in a similar way.

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  1. Oh, I’m so glad you enjoyed this one, FictionFan. I do like books where the author has obviously done the ‘homework,’ especially if they depict places well. And I know just the sort of character Patrick must be – I know a few ‘Patricks,’ if that makes sense. Put that together with the family history and discovery of the past, and I can see why you thought this was a winner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s always a balancing act to show that the research is sound without letting it overwhelm the story and happily this one gets the balance right. I thought Patrick was a very specific “type” without being a stereotype, if that makes sense – one could place him culturally by his “voice”, I think. And although I haven’t visited the Californian setting, I know both Lyme Regis and the Ring of Kerry a bit, so that was fun… 😀

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  2. Can I deduce your reading slump has turned a corner, FF?? Sounds like this one really captured your interest and attention. How splendid to be able to give such a fine review to an online author friend — congratulations, Matthew, and best wishes for your book’s success!

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  3. It’s not the type story I’m looking for right this moment, but it does sound very good (thanks to your excellent review!). I’ll will file it away in the back of my mind for future reference. On second thought, it might be safer to just add it to my wishlist.

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    • Hahaha, always safest to add to the wishlist! I had to wait till I was in the right mood too, but once I started it I was fully absorbed – the sign of a good book, especially during my current lack of enthusiasm for reading in general.

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  4. Having read a fair amount of heavy going nonfiction recently, this is possibly the kind of book I need just now. I’m soled by the fact there are no out right villains as such, and just human beings muddling through and trying to make the best of things, like we’re all trying to do at the moment.

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      • I always enjoy books about the “home front” more than books set in the actual war zones, so the Lyme Regis setting worked perfectly for me, with the mix of the locals coping with all these Americans stationed there, and the soldiers knowing what was ahead of them. My mother was stationed down there during the war – not in Lyme Regis, but a bit further along the coast – so the book reminded me of some of her stories of that time too, which was why it felt was authentically portrayed…

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    • Yes, I enjoyed that everyone in the book was allowed to have good points as well as weaknesses – so much truer to life than villains and heroes, though they can be fun in their place too. The characterisation is very good and the varied settings add an extra level of interest. If you do read it sometime, I hope you enjoy it! 🙂

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  5. I’m really impressed by your ability to pinpoint a type of writing as “american” FF. I think it’s a really important distinction, and one that my reading eyes aren’t yet fine-tuned enough to pick up. Can you give some examples, maybe of certain words or phrases? I feel like this is something I really need to learn! hahah

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    • I suspect American English and Canadian English are much closer to each other so the differences probably aren’t so obvious to you – it’s as much the culture as the vocabulary, and kinda speech patterns. For example, taking bit at random from the book…

      “I liked the people, and went to lunch or dinner with them some; But more than that, I liked myself more. I started having dinner alone and liking it – favoring it even, because of the novelty of it. Instead of eating take-out at home watching television, I’d walk down Caledonia – not to wolf down a dog and a draft with the gang at Smitty’s, or a slice of pizza amid the din at Antonio’s – but to sit quietly at what’s now DeCarlo with a spiral notebook, and make notes about pieces I was working on.”

      To me, there’s so much there that’s American, and specific to a particular bit of the culture: the word “some” being used like that; calling a beer a draft; saying Caledonia instead of Caledonia Street; the introspective self-analysis! I could never think that was written by a Brit – it whisks me to either California or upper-class New York! 😀

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      • So I’ll weigh in here, with something going up on my own blog (www.MatthewGeyerWriter.com/blog) in a day or two:

        What about this “West Coast writing”—where exactly does it come from, and why is it so familiar to the British ear? I ask here, in particular, because we’ve just discussed a new Philip Marlowe novel written by a second contemporary Brit. FictionFan and others might find a bit of the same “sense” in Lawrence Osborne’s “Only to Sleep,” as I surely do. If I’m right, what is it we recognize as “West Coast writing” about it, and why?

        Could it be tied to the fact that this particular style is the one so many Hollywood screenwriters from Chandler’s generation used, not just in their novels but in their screenplays? Remember that from the 1930’s through the 1950’s or 60’s, the lion’s share of American movies—and probably most of the English-speaking world’s movies—were written and produced in Hollywood, where people like Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain and countless other American novelists often went to find a steady paycheck, not just after the Depression but after the Second World War and through most of the middle of the 20th Century. And who watched those movies they wrote? Not just Californians or people on the West Coast, but people all over the States and well beyond. Whether it was Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy or John Wayne, or Joan Crawford, Betty Davis or Ingrid Bergman on the screen, the script was written by writers on and largely of the West Coast, well into and fairly through the Golden Age of Hollywood.

        My grandmother lived in Hollywood, and the motion picture studios were a big deal. She always brought her Christmas cookies to our house in two of the largest “cookie jars” I’ve ever seen—thirty-five millimeter film cans. I guess what I’m positing here is: Hollywood gave our generation a lot more than those cookie jars.

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        • Interesting! Yes, I can see that it’s similar to the style of the old Hollywood films of that era – like the voice-over in Sunset Boulevard, for example. And certainly watching them as a British child I think I thought there were only two American accents – that one, generic Hollywood, which we would just have called American back then, and Southern, which we probably thought was a thing of the past because it only showed up in movies about the Civil War era, like Gone with the Wind. Or maybe three – Cagney – Chicago – gangster-language! Four, if you count John Wayne and Westerns! Haha, it’s like when people talk about a Scottish accent – what is that, I wonder, given that Glaswegians and Aberdonians frequently can’t understand each other… 😉

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      • Hmm ok yes, I see what you mean. This is very helpful!!! I think there are major differences between CDN and USA dialect tho, b/c when you point out the use of those partciular words, they do seem very American-and not something you would find up here 🙂 We Canadians loves to differentiate ourselves from our Southern neighbors-espeically right now! LOL

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        • Yes, I was saying to Karissa, below, that I don’t notice such big differences in Canadian writing, maybe because Canada was linked to the UK for longer and probably schools used a lot of English literature – so maybe our “voices” are still quite similar? Don’t know…

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  6. Well, well — where to start? With thanks, of course, for the kind words and interest. Writing is such a solitary way of life, which makes it a nice complement to all the rest for a family man. I grew up in a house with nine children, so isolation still feels like a nice change of pace. But to finally have feedback from folks on this one has been rewarding.

    As to the amount of research and the depictions of Dorset and Devon and Kerry: I spent half of the summer of 1997 in Lyme Regis, living on the high street in a building Jane Austen lived in while writing Persuasion (so says a town plaque next to the front door). It looked out on a 180 degree view of Lyme Bay and its famous breakwater, The Cobb. We had the kids in tow, and the run of the place because my younger and smarter brother who owned it back then went away for the summers. My wife, Pheme, and I returned there several times for shorter stays in the double-oughts. It’s a small town, so we’ve seen and walked most of it many times, drank in all the pubs, talked to all the folks because they knew who we were by advance introduction. And as for Kerry and Knightstown, my mother was born Patsy Sullivan, so Ireland and Irishness was part of being one of those eleven Geyers in that house on Lullaby Lane in California. Pheme and I stayed in the house in Knightstown that Molly Bowditch lives in for a week in 2005.

    I write the kinds of stories I like to read, and since I don’t read many crime novels not written by Raymond Chandler, I’m usually working with flawed people who aren’t criminals and generally mean well. They interest me no end, and not just the leading actors in the play, but the bit parts–like Hannah, the artist Patrick is dating, who lives in the floating home/studio and tries too hard and can’t stay out of her own way. In both my novels, the protagonists (two in Strays, just Patrick here) are not happily married; I write about them, in part I think, to learn what that’s like, because I’ve been very happily married for over 30 years, as my parents were for far more than that.

    But the most fun, and perhaps the most work, was to capture the language of those two places in speech, without overplaying one’s hand. I kept a pocket notebook at hand for years, jotting down the charmingly intriguing ways the Irish people have of saying things. When you have as much material as I did by the final drafts, you don’t feel compelled to overplay your hand, and you’ve got plenty of good cards.

    Next up is a historical novel about Mark Rothko and another mid-century American painter. It’s through half-a-dozen drafts, which as usual haven’t proven enough. Wish me luck, and you’ll continue to see me around these virtual pages thanks to FF and all her followers. — Matt Geyer

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    • My pleasure, Matt – thoroughly enjoyed it! Goodness, there were four of us and finding a bit of solitude was hard enough, so I can quite see the attraction after growing up in a family of nine.

      I’m trying to work out when I was in Lyme Regis – I think it might have been a couple of years before that, and only for a short visit. Because of Persuasion naturally! So I had to climb those steps which terrified the life out of me, and then of course walk out on the Cobb to pretend I was in The French Lieutenant’s Woman… 😉 I wondered if you had Irish blood in you, knowing how much you love Irish writing – not that one has to be Irish to do that, of course. I thought you caught the speech patterns of both English and Irish excellently, and I must honestly say that was a relief – too often Americans tend to caricature the language of the “old countries” (as I’m sure I would do if I tried to write “American”). So I’m always a bit apprehensive when an American author I enjoy decides to cross the Atlantic in their books. I’ll know not to fear if you ever decide to do it again!

      I need to try to convince you to sample more crime though. The best of it can be just as effective as lit-fic for analysing characters. Hmm, I shall merely say The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau… 😉

      Looking forward to the next one, and hoping I won’t have to wait as long next time! 😀

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      • Based on your review of it, The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau sounds right up my alley, so it goes on my TBR along with Banville/Black’s Marlowe novel. Thanks very much for the very thoughtful tip.

        And three cheers for the robust quality of your website, FF, which I never fully appreciated until I hired someone to do mine and got so much less. The layout, the search engine, the indexes (uh, I think that may be indices, but it sounds so eyeglasses-down-the-tip-of-the-nose). It’s a pleasure to use as I just did to find Disappearance.

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  7. What you say about the West Coast American style fascinated me. I think I know what you mean but I wonder if it would stand out to me (as West Coaster) the way it does to you. This book sounds really well done!

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    • It is! It’s only since I started trying to get better acquainted with American fiction that I’ve become aware of regional, or sometimes class, differences in the “voices”. What intrigues me is that this particular style of “voice” always seems to be from male writers… can’t think why that would be, and of course it might just be that I haven’t come across female authors using it. Matt’s comment above on the subject is interesting… 🙂

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      • I think I kind of know what you mean because I can pick up something similar with East Coast writers, whether in Canada or the US. I wonder if it’s more of a male voice or simple that there have historically been more men writing novels that are widely read.

        Matt’s comment above makes a lot of sense. I’ve always had a theory that on the West Coast we have the most “neutral” accent and that it’s because of Hollywood. People are familiar with the way we talk. When I talk to people in other countries or even in the US, they can’t easily identify the region I’m from.

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        • Yes, I think male writers of that kind of introspective lit-fic still seem to be more commonplace in the US for some reason, or at least they’re the ones that get the publicity and the prizes!

          I was thinking about that after Anne’s comment, and I don’t find the Canadian version of English nearly as different as the American one to my ears somehow. I wondered if it was because Canada remained linked to the UK for longer, and perhaps Canadians were educated in English literature as we were in Scotland, giving us all similar written “voices”, even though our spoken accents differ? Don’t know, really, but it’s an interesting subject…

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  8. This has definitely got my attention. Quiet novels always attract me and I don’t read enough books from male authors or with contemporary settings. Sample downloaded 😊 I’m also rather envious of your wide-ranging circle of literary friends 😉

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    • I hope you enjoy the sample! I actually read more male authors than female, though not intentionally – I just prefer the type of books they write, on the whole. Ha, I know! I seem have built up a little gang of author friends – fortunately for me, they’re all good! Otherwise I’d have to run away and hide… 😉

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