After his marriage breakup, Edwin Fisher decides to spend a week at an English seaside resort, to clear his head and lick his wounds. He returns to Bealthorpe, a familiar venue after years of childhood holidays. Edwin moves aimlessly through his first day or so, stretching the most simple tasks just to fill the time. He bumps into his in-laws, astonished to find they are also on holiday in Bealthorpe, and as they begin to meddle in his affairs, he strives to maintain appropriate yet minimal contact. Edwin finds a social life through some of the other lodgers in his hotel. They all gather for drinks and dinner at the hotel, and finish their evening in the pub. Edwin experiments with a flirtation, soothing himself with the knowledge that he is still attractive to someone.
Alone most of the time, Edwin has plenty of opportunity to reflect on his marriage. The novel takes place almost entirely in Edwin’s head: taking in the sights, observing other tourists, and then, more often than not, recalling an incident between he and his wife, Meg. Through his reminiscences the reader gradually pieces together the puzzle of Edwin’s marriage, and details of the critical emotional event that was just too much for them to bear.
Middleton writes wonderfully descriptive scenes which bring the holiday resort to life:
In the dining-room this evening, silence blossomed once the families began to eat. Fisher enjoyed the activity, the tucking of bibs, the wiping of mouths, the tipping of plates for the last spoonful, the pause between courses where one put on a small show for the other tables or angled for the correct snippet of conversation which would set the rest to chatter or laughing. These people worked hard, holding their fingers correctly, not marking the tablecloths and this ceremony pleased him. In this room decorated with dolls and paper flowers it was proper to act the gentleman, ape the lady. When the standard was judged, by Monday evening at the latest, there’d be a relaxation, a few aitches would topple, salacious asides allowed, confidences would be exchanged, but at this the first dinner after a complete day’s holiday matters were formal. (p. 52)
Middleton’s style reminded me a bit of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Holiday had a similar dreamy, “day in the life” feeling, accompanied by the imagery of long, slow summer days. And as in Woolf’s novel, many small incidents are used to paint a big picture of a character and his relationships, making for a very enjoyable read.