Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Winterton Blue

A Novel

by Trezza Azzopardi

“Azzopardi has always created disturbing, painterly images of her characters’ surroundings and memories . . . In Winterton Blue, Azzopardi again deploys her signature gift . . . her visual imagination to conjure scenes of humor as well as heartbreak . . . She adds chiaro to the scuro of her fiction, drawing open the curtains on murky family history so her characters can identify their ghosts.” —Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 288
  • Publication Date January 28, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4349-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 288
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4595-7
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

A New York Times Editors’ Choice, the breathtaking third novel from Booker Prize finalist and national best-selling author Trezza Azzopardi is at once a powerful love story and an intricately plotted mystery that explores the staying power of family and memory, and the pull of unlikely but destined romance.

For twenty years Lewis has been haunted by his brother’s death. Try as he might to escape this tragedy, the ghost of Wayne confronts him at every turn. When he meets Anna, a young woman who is also haunted—by her loud and carefree mother, Rita, who just so happens to be very much alive—Lewis is pulled into a world of carousing, music hall turns, and cocktails as he searches for the person he believes responsible for the death of his brother. Against the backdrop of the Norfolk coast with its massive skies and relentless seas, Anna and Lewis slowly learn to trust each other and accept that an uncertain future can be as wild and alluring as the landscape they have grown to love.

Tags Literary

Praise

“As always, Azzopardi thrusts her readers inside her characters’ skins with her tight focus [and] stream-of-consciousness style. . . . There’s lots of charm here, as well as suspense and occasional moments of madness.” —The Atlantic

“Azzopardi casts a blue spell brightened by flashes of humor and promises of love.” —Donna Seaman, Booklist

“With her latest, the award-winning author of The Hiding Place has given us a fine novel that is honest, charmingly written, and redemptive. Recommended.” —Jyna Scheeren, Library Journal

“Editor’s Choice.” —New York Times Book Review

“Azzopardi has always created disturbing, painterly images of her characters’ surroundings and memories . . . In Winterton Blue, Azzopardi again deploys her signature gift . . . her visual imagination to conjure scenes of humor as well as heartbreak . . . She adds chiaro to the scuro of her fiction, drawing open the curtains on murky family history so her characters can identify their ghosts.” —Liesl Schillinger, New York Times Book Review

“Beryl Bainbridge, Muriel Spark and Graham Greene all come to mind, but Azzopardi’s style is all her own, she never sacrifices sensuous description to her thrifty spareness. The smallest object refracts into a kaleidoscopic world. . . . Azzopardi . . . is proving herself to be a formidable addition to the tradition of fine novelists of the sort Forster would Approve.” —Brian Bouldrey, The Chicago Tribune

“Azzopardi explores love’s power to heal.” —Bharti Kirchner, Seattle Times

“At once a touching love story and an intricately plotted mystery .
. . Winterton Blue will both entice and entertain.” —Octavian

“Exquisitely observed and emotionally complex. . . . Azzopardi subverts expectations in ways that implicate the reader. . . . Like all good fiction, hers is rich with broader implication.” —Ian McGillis, Canada.com

Awards

New York Times 100 Notable Book of 2007
Chicago Tribune Favorite Books of 2007

Excerpt

Chapter One

Brendan hovers at the door of the lock-up, glancing back to the garden gate, which Anna has left swinging open. He hears the sound of a thump and immediate swearing.

Are you alright in there, Anna?

’Course, comes a voice out of the darkness, Never better! Now hand me that bloody torch before I brain myself.

Brendan takes two steps in, and finds the torch on the bonnet. There’s the roll of wheels on concrete as Anna slides out from under the car. She raises her hand, grabs the torch, and slides back in. Brendan stares at the floor where Anna briefly was. He is full of admiration until he sees her toolbox, which is full of tubes of glitter and sticks of Pritt.

Didn’t know you were good with engines, he says, picking a paintbrush out of the box.

I’m not, she says, I’m trying . . . to find . . . this . . . leak.

There’s something familiar about the board she’s using, but it’s too dim to see.

Brendan bends his head under the chassis, but all he can make out in the wavering torchlight is Anna’s hair, spilling over the concrete like oil itself.

Quite a big leak, I’d imagine, he says, straightening up to better view the sticky patch under his feet, Not something you can fix with a bit of Blu-Tack.

Anna slides back out again. She’s been using an old skateboard as a truckle. She stands up, flails a length of crepe bandage at the car.

No. Well, it was worth a try.

You were going to bandage it? asks Brendan.

I saw it in a film, says Anna.

And this is the crisis? he says, You know I’m hopeless with things that go.

Brendan shines the torch directly on Anna, then clicks it off. She has spatters of oil on her face and in her hair.

I’ve got to get to Yarmouth, says Anna, thumping the bonnet, But not in this old crock.

The sun outside is bright and warm, despite the early hour. Anna opens the lid of the wheelie bin and throws the bandage in, leaving a clear pattern of her hand on the lid.

Stand still, says Brendan, licking a finger, Just a tiny speck here.

He rubs at the tip of her nose.

Clean as a whistle, he says, starting to laugh. Anna looks down at her filthy clothes, and spreads her hands at him.

Think I’ll just have to take the train.

Good plan. But get a wash before you go, says Brendan, Your mother will have a fit if she sees you in that state. And you don’t want to go making things worse.

Brendan swings the gate behind him, lifting it up on the hinges so the catch slots into the housing. They stand and inspect Anna’s garden. The path is littered with weeds and broken pegs. At the far end, caught on the brambles, a plastic carrier bag dances in the wind.

I’m going to have to bring her back this time, she says, She’s not fit to be left. Don’t suppose you could do me a favour, Brendan?

Now what could it be, I wonder? he says, following her gaze.

Anna goes to tuck her arm in his, stopping when she sees the oil on her hands.

My mother loves her garden, the birds especially, says Anna, Could you just tidy it up a bit? Maybe get a bird-table? Some pots? Make it look lived-in.

As opposed to died-in, he says, And how long have I got to effect this transformation?

Anna kicks at a clump of grass growing through the paving.

I’m hoping to bring her back in a day or two, she says, not daring to meet his eye.

I see. So I’m supposed to spend my weekend in the garden centre with a load of humbug-sucking geriatrics, while you go to the seaside. Can’t see what’s in it for me, he says.

Anna gives him a nudge.

They have geriatrics at the seaside too, Brendan, And you get to feed my squirrels.

His eyes flicker with distaste.

How tempting. I suppose your mother loves them, as well?

You’re joking, cries Anna, She uses a pump-action water pistol in her own garden if she gets even a sniff of one. Her aim is brilliant. She calls it “dispatch.”

Brendan considers for a moment. He stands in the centre of the path, squinting up at the trees and pale morning sky.

I like the sound of your mother, he says, But what if she won’t budge?

Forgetting the state of her hands, Anna rubs her fingers against her brow, pressing them into her eyes and dragging them down her face.

I’m taking no prisoners, she says, She’ll come back if I have to drag her by the hair.

Her face when she looks at him is fierce.

What’s so funny? she says, seeing Brendan’s grin, C’mon, share the joke.

Minnehaha wash off warpaint, he says, And then I’ll walk you to the station.

* * *

Lewis puts his hand between the doors and forces them, just as the driver is about to pull off. He gives Lewis a look, but thinks better of saying anything, and presses the release button to let him on.

Do you want that stowed? he asks, pointing at Lewis’s kitbag.

You’re alright, says Lewis, snatching his ticket and moving along the rows of seats. There are more people than Lewis expects at this time of the morning, and he takes them in immediately: a pair of elderly women at the very front, sitting on opposite sides and exchanging weather talk across the aisle; a teenage boy fussily putting an ear-piece into his ear and looking out of the window, down at his iPod—looking anywhere but at Lewis. Directly behind the boy are two Chinese girls, both wearing brown uniforms and serious expressions. Mid-way along, two workmen in overalls have their eyes closed and their mouths open. At the back of the coach, where Lewis is headed, he sees something which makes his heart miss a beat: a bent figure in a red lumberjack shirt. The man straightens up, unfolds his newspaper, and Lewis breathes again. It’s not Manny.

He puts his head against the window. The cold glass is welcome after the brisk walk to the bus station. Once they move onto the ring-road, Lewis takes off his jacket and throws it on the back ledge. He catches a glimpse of the stadium before the coach dips under the new fly-over. His return home to Cardiff has lasted only a week. He doesn’t want to go through it, but he knows he can’t not. As soon as he closes his eyes, he sees again the sun, shining like a searchlight through the trees, and the finger pointing at him, and the water lapping at his feet. He hears the cry of the wood pigeons; Don’t go, don’t leave me. Don’t go, don’t leave me.

He should have gone back to Manny’s and told him about it. Manny would have helped him through. He hears Manny’s voice, calm and low: You need to put this to bed, son. The dead can’t hurt you, only the living can hurt you. There’s no such thing as ghosts. Now, let’s go through it again.

He could have stayed at the site and waited for Carl to turn up. But Carl wasn’t going to turn up, was he? Not now he’d got himself a set of wheels. Thinking about the van, about the whole business of his return to Cardiff—that idiotic idea he had, of making his peace with his mother—Lewis is glad to be done with it. It wasn’t as if it were his van, anyway. Not as if his mother had wanted to see him. Going back was just another mistake.

It was an error, Lewis says, precisely and out loud, as if saying it will make it true. The man in the lumberjack shirt twists his head round and looks at him.

The early morning sky has lost its fresh pink light; chasing the bus to London is a bank of dirty grey cloud blowing from the west. Lewis isn’t noticing the weather: he’s focusing only on the pattern of graffiti scored into the head-rest of the seat in front of him. He’s putting his hand on the letters; he’s thinking of nothing.

Reading Group Guide

By Lindsey Tate

1. The power of the past over the present plays an extremely important role in this novel. Begin your discussion of the novel by considering its narrative structure, the way in which details of the characters’ lives, past and present, are slowly spooled out to the reader. How effective is this? Consider the ways in which memories come unbidden into character’s minds. Think about the importance of seemingly ordinary objects and the memories that lurk beneath their surface.

2. Discuss how the novel explores the idea of family. Consider the traditional concept of family, and recount ways in which the various characters search for this “ideal” and whether they come up short. Talk about notions of love and duty as they relate to Anna and her move to Yarmouth and to Lewis in his desperate search for his mother. How does Rita fit in, and Vernon? How far do you agree with Manny’s statement about family: “I’ve got a son I don’t want and a daughter who don’t want me. I reckon that just about makes you family” (p. 244).

3. The bulk of the novel takes place against the backdrop of wind swept Yarmouth. How does this landscape reflect the characters’ inner lives, and how does it affect change in them? Consider the remoteness of the Norfolk shore, the constant buffeting of the wind, and the presence of the ocean.

4. “The memories he’d like to forget trail him like scavenging dogs; all the good moments are lost in his need to escape them” (p. 134). How far is this true of Lewis’s life? Why does he want to “be no one again” (p. 26) when he returns to London from Cardiff? Consider whether you think Lewis is aware that his constant running and hiding is not going to help him—what about his statement that “You can’t undo. You can’t not see what you’ve seen” (p. 47).

5. In addition to being constantly on the move, Lewis hopes to keep the past at bay by maintaining control over the physical details of his life. He thinks that a “life without objects is easier to bear, because objects store memories, and memories are like quicksand” (p. 47). Discuss some of the ways in which Lewis attempts to achieve this kind of life. How successful is he? Why do you think he feels the need to be in control? How do his feelings for Anna fit into this?

6. While Lewis is paralyzed by an event that took place in his childhood and lives his life trying to hide from the past, Rita lives very much in the present. Yet there are chinks in the cheery surface of her life that point to a poignant past. Find examples of ways she holds onto the past, and consider her coping mechanisms in the face of difficulties.

7. Toward the end of the novel, after Anna’s near-drowning, Rita reveals her strength as a mother. Was this surprising to you? Think about intimations earlier in the novel that suggested this strength of character. In one of the most moving scenes in the book, Rita gives Lewis her tourmaline ring and, in so doing, gives her blessing to his relationship with Anna. What do you think she sees in Lewis that enables her to do this?

8. When Anna goes to look after her mother she describes her situation as “noble and selfless daughter going to look after mad old widow in the middle of nowhere” (p. 68). How far would you agree with her assessment? Does Anna’s sense of duty to her mother change and, if so, why? How well does Anna know her mother?

9. How do Anna and her mother undermine each other? Are they ever supportive of each other? What do we learn about them during their time in Crete together—how far would you say their relationship advances?

10. How does Anna’s relationship with Lewis change her relationship with her mother and Vernon? Consider role reversals in Anna’s relationship with her mother—who, ultimately, is looking after whom?

11. Drowning and the fear of drowning runs on many levels as a theme throughout the novel and culminates in Anna’s intervention of Lewis’s attempted drowning of Carl. Analyze the various characters’ responses to water—Rita, Anna, Lewis, Anna’s father—and talk about the importance of Anna’s dreams about water. For Anna and Lewis what do water and drowning represent?

12. Throughout Lewis’s memories of his childhood we learn many details about his brother, Wayne, and their mother. Describe his relationship with his brother, and with his mother. Consider whether he ever expresses feelings of anger toward his brother for the trouble he consistently landed them in, ending with the drowning. What about feelings toward his mother for making him responsible for his brother? What is the main source of guilt that Lewis still suffers? How could this have led him to try to exert control over the rest of his life?

13. Lewis’s brother, Wayne, suffered from epilepsy, and several of his fits are described. Discuss how this illness contributes toward the theme of control/loss of control that dominates the book. What about Rita’s little lapses of consciousness? And Anna only confiding in her mother about past boyfriends when she has had too much to drink? Find instances throughout the novel where mental anguish manifests itself through physical illness.

14. Manny plays a crucial role in helping Lewis to gain a certain sense of closure about his brother’s death. What are your feelings toward Manny? What does he represent in the novel?

15. Compare Anna’s relationship with her mother with Lewis’s relationship with his. How are they both dominated by them? How does Anna’s relationship change during the course of the novel? After meeting Anna, Lewis comes to a realization about why he went to see his mother “now, after Anna, he understands: it’s because she would never come looking for him” (p. 164). What does he mean by this? Do you think, even though he never meets with his mother, that his relationship with her changes over the course of the novel?

16. When Anna first sees Lewis she sees in him “a look of desolation which couldn’t be combed out or polished off. She understood in this second how they shared this quality” (p. 126). While the source of Lewis’s entrenched sadness is easy to understand, Anna’s is less easy to pinpoint. Analyze why Anna sees herself as desolate. What is she looking for and why is life always coming up short for her? What is the purpose of Brendan in the narrative, and consider the reasons why he remains only a platonic friend.

17. Lewis states that he is looking for “peace and presence, and what was left of his family; he wanted his history back” (p. 164). To what extent does Lewis achieve any of these aims by the end of the novel? What does it mean, to gain back one’s history? What does it mean to Lewis? Talk about the importance of falling in love with Anna in helping Lewis to move on with his life away from his past—would he have been able to move forward without her?

18. At one point Brendan states “Give me bedlam over boredom any day” (p. 39). Explore the different characters in the light of this statement and examine how their search for one or the other determines their actions.

19. Anna’s father—Rita’s husband—lingers over the novel as a strong but mysterious presence. Discuss Anna’s relationship with him, and the effect of his death on her. Anna “keeps her memories of her father underwater” (p. 124)—what do you think she means by this and how does it relate to the theme of memory in the rest of the novel?

20. Consider Rita and Vernon’s relationship. What do you think is the catalyst for Vernon’s marriage proposal? Compare the ease of their relationship to that of Anna and Lewis’s complicated affair.

21. The final image of the novel captures Anna and Lewis, perched above the ocean, warily allowing themselves to fall in love. Through this image what do you think the author hopes to convey about their relationship in particular and about love in general. What do you think the future holds for Anna and Lewis?

Suggestions for further reading:

In the Fold by Rachel Cusk; The Music Room by Dennis McFarland; On Chesil Beach and A Child in Time by Ian McEwan; Rainlight by Alison McGhee; The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy; Mothers and Sons by Colm Toibin; The Chymical Wedding by Lindsay Clarke; Waterland by Graham Swift