I'll Tell You A Secret: A Memory Of Seven Summers
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“Memory opens for me through my body. I slip back because I catch a smell, hear a sound, or hold an evocative flavour on my tongue. But these single-sense glimpses of or gusts from the past are often fleeting. More compelling for me, more total, is when my whole body, the entire surface of my skin, and my muscles’ movements connect me to my old self. Especially it is the movements of summer, when more of me meets the elements, while I am swimming, or feeling my bramble-scratched legs against hot rocks. Or when I am experiencing the lovely lassitude that fills me at the end of a long afternoon of sun and water as I stand slicing tomatoes for my supper, while corn boils, and sun falls in the window on a pile of raspberries in a bowl. All my senses, all, are alive.” – from I’ll Tell You a Secret
A delightful, beautifully written and thoroughly engaging story of coming-of-age in the 1950s that focuses on Anne Coleman between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one, and her relationship with “Mr. MacLennan” (Canadian literary figure Hugh MacLennan), which played out in the summers in the village of North Hatley, Quebec, a picturesque resort that has been known to attract artists and writers and the upper-classes. In prose that is intimate, visual, and resonant with immediacy, Anne Coleman brings us back to summers in the 1950s, revealing the eccentricities of North Hatley and its residents, but most of all focusing on her special friendship with a man many years her senior.
Independent, individualistic, sensually alert, as a young girl Anne Coleman did not fit the mould. Later, when Anne is eighteen, she leads a double life, one which follows the course of a romance with Frank, the dark, brooding European young man who has a strange hold over her, and the enigmatic Mr. MacLennan, whose own feelings for Anne suggest themselves to her in ways that are at once confusing, tantalizing, and deeply important.
Along the way, the story also offers a wonderfully evocative portrayal of the 1950s, its sexual repressiveness and mores. The beautiful village of North Hatley comes alive in vivid ways.
This is a unique coming-of-age story by a writer who writes sentences that cut to the bone.
From the Hardcover edition.
sliding on frozen tarns, crossing becks. Patsy at least to some degree shared that world. Now I am living in a different one, mostly Russian. It’s made a gap between us. There’s another thing too. Her father. It happened a few times last summer but I’d hoped he’d have forgotten about it; I’d more or less forgotten about it myself. I have an excellent memory for most things, but there are some things I just let slip away. Or that’s not accurate: I sort of fuzz them out on purpose so I can’t
in order to slip into the bathroom and apply her makeup before her new young husband awoke. He must never, ever see her naked face. I ponder now how this fits into my picture. The woman was engaged in pathetic trickery and surely one day she would be caught out, the crinkled skin around her eyes glimpsed. And presumably that happened one lazy, unvigilant day, as by the next summer he had left her. But when she told of her ploy, while he was still with her, she was laughing. She saw it as clever –
and you will succeed at whatever you do, provided you pour your energy into it unreservedly. Matthew Arnold, as I’m sure you’ll remember, spoke of genius being energy. I don’t suppose it’s really as straightforward as that, nor do I know if you have what the world would call genius, but you have great energy, Anne. It staggers me often, my sense of that in you. And intelligence, you have that too.” He pauses and turns to look at me and his eyes are so full of a kind of almost angry concern for
expressions – is tender, I think, gentle. It is so sad. That is what the stillness is about; it is sadness. He came because I insisted. I realize now, driving southwards away from everything, how much he must have called upon his long-hoarded stoic strength to come to my wedding. I made him come and he came. That was how selfish I was. That stillness with which Mr. MacLennan watched me: I look back and I cannot be certain how consciously, or I guess I mean how analytically, I thought about
Hugh MacLennan. For years and years the fact of it still floated somewhere in a far corner of my mind, though it essentially had ended in 1957, the summer I turned twenty-one. He died thirty-three years later, in 1990, at the age of eighty-three. That is a long time for him to have been still in the world and for me never to resolve for myself what had really happened between us, and why whatever it was had stopped happening. And why the thought of him was painful to me. I knew he was important