Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards

Ebenezer Le Page, cantankerous, opinionated, and charming, is one of the most compelling literary creations of the late twentieth century. Eighty years old, Ebenezer has lived his whole life on the Channel Island of Guernsey, a stony speck of a place caught between the coasts of England and France yet a world apart from either. Ebenezer himself is fiercely independent, but as he reaches the end of his life he is determined to tell his own story and the stories of those he has known. He writes of family secrets and feuds, unforgettable friendships and friendships betrayed, love glimpsed and lost. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is a beautifully detailed chronicle of a life, but it is equally an oblique reckoning with the traumas of the twentieth century, as Ebenezer recalls both the men lost to the Great War and the German Occupation of Guernsey during World War II, and looks with despair at the encroachments of commerce and tourism on his beloved island.

G. B. Edwards labored in obscurity all his life and completed The Book of Ebenezer Le Page shortly before his death. Published posthumously, the book is a triumph of the storyteller's art that conjures up the extraordinary voice of a living man.

Cover art of this edition by R.B. Kitaj, from painting titled "Blake's God", 2006.



This is a one-in-a-billion best-ever reads.

Sitting here trying to capture my thoughts and feelings is a daunting exercise. All I want to do right now is bawl my eyes out, really! And let me make a confession right now: I am deeply, utterly and hopelessly in love with Ebenezer Le Page!

Ebenezer Le Page is a fictional, 80-year-old gentleman who decided to write down his memories of his life on Guernsay Island.

P. 112: "Tonight the sea is pounding away on the rocks of La Petite Grève and the spray is dashing against my windows and the wind is whistling round the chimney and the fire burning blue in the grate. I am in the warm, and as old Jim would say, as snug as a bug in a rug. I could be out visiting this person or that, if I wanted to. They all make a fuss of me when I arrive, and shoo the cat off the armchair for me to sit in; but they are not really interested in anything I have to say. It is not that I want to say much; but I like to sit in a corner and listen to people talking, and put in my spoke now and then. Nowadays people don't talk among themselves around the fire like they used to. As soon as I've sat down and been made comfortable, it's 'Sh! it's Maugret!' or 'It's Eamon Andrews!' and I have to sit in the half-dark and look at the horrible T.V.; and you can't put your spoke in against the T.V.

That is how it is I come to be writing this book. I got to say what I think to somebody: if only to myself. I don't expect anybody will ever read what I have written; but at the back of my mind I always have the hope perhaps some day somebody will."
What seems to be a memoir is in fact a novel wherein several characters have their turns to be spotlighted and a consistent story line is subtly woven through his memories. It is indeed a fictional novel in memoir-form. Amazing, really. The author is not well-known either. It probably could have been a memoir in novel-form, for all one knows! What a good idea, after all ! The period between 1890 to 1970 is covered in the story. It is certainly the period when a world as it was known was totally revolutionized on many levels. Ebenezer Le Page took the time to share his own experiences of the old and new in his memoir.

Ebenezer Le Page was born on Guernsey Island. He grew up and old there. He never left it. Only once did he venture off to Jersey island for a football game between the two islands. But that was it. Vividly and detailed he wrote down his memories of the people and events. His subtle wit snaked though Chapel and Church services, conflict between family members, English and French influences, romantic canoodeling of friends and foes. He mourned the death of his friends in the two big wars of Europe. He dutifully, and lovingly, although not obviously, dotted down his words filling up three thick volumes. Oh how well he remembered the intrigue of everyday life on the island between France and England; how independent they demanded to be from both countries; how mixed up their cultures and histories. He remembered it all. He did not only share the human stories, he shared the local patois they used as a language as well.

He questioned everything and never stopped doing so, not even when he neared the final pages of his story.
P. 55: He went to St Sampson's Chapel regular, but sometimes I thought he didn't believe a word of it. He said Horace said it was all made up. That was the first I heard of Horace having any idea in head except girls and his belly and swank. Horace didn't believe Jesus was conceived of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Ghost. He said there are plenty of virgins on Guernsey who conceive, but it is not by the Holy Ghost."

Another church service: "P. 59: It was well back in a field by a query before you come to Richmond Corner: there are houses there now. I had seen it by day. It was only a tin hut and there was a board outside which said SEAMAN'S BETHEL . BRIGHT GOSPEL SERVICES. ALL WELCOME. They had already started when we got in and was standing up singing 'Eternal Father, strong and save'. The place was packed and we had to stand at the back. I had never seen such a congregation. It was all men. They was of every race and colour and nation, and young and old, and bald and curly and straight; and had come every one of the ships in St Sampson's Harbour. .. The only light was a paraffin lamp hanging from the rafters; and, on a low platform at the other end, my great-aunt was conducting the service.

She was a finely built woman, but looked as if she hadn't washed for years, and was wearing a skin-tight black robe that was green with age. She had a crumpled old black hat on her head with what had once been an ostrich feather on it, but was now only a spike sticking up. She was leading the singing in a voice that shook the corrugated iron roof and rose above the voices of the seamen, who was singing like the roaring of the sea. My great-uncle in a reefer-jacket, and looking like an old sea-captain with his white beard flying, was putting his whole heart and soul into the wheezy old harmonium and bringing out the rage of the storm and the whistling of the wind in the shrouds, until I thought every minute the old harmonium was going to fall to pieces on the floor."
He shared his secret loves and affections for various people in his life. But most of all, he wrote down his love story, although it took him a lifetime to finally admit the word to himself as well as to the greatest love of his life.
"P.63: " I can see her yet as she was that Sunday evening with her small square chin and straight nose and her hair done up for show. She had lovely hair. It wasn't red and it wasn't gold, but in between; and she didn't have a flaw in her skin. It was smooth and rather pale, but it could flush really like a rose; and she had the mouth of an angel when she was pleased, and the mouth of the she-devil when she was vexed. She was taller than the others and they wasn't so much walking along as dancing, and their little feet was coming out like mice from under their skirts...

They knew they was being watched by us fellows on the galey wall. Ada Domaille nodded and my Cousin Muriel smiled; but the Roussel girls was shy and made out they didn't see us. Liza, as she would, looked us over one by one from head to foot, as if we was fish on a slab in the fish-market she didn't want to buy. I thought, you wait, my bitch! I'll show you yet I'm not a fish! 'Who'se that one in the middle?' I said. The fellow didn't know. 'She's a hot bit of stuff,' I said."
He is gracious. He is honest. He is in pain. He is cranky. He is sometimes happy. Happiness was not his primary forté in life. He simply did not believe it was possible to be happy. Women were trouble, except for his mother, his sister and another one he so dearly wanted to forget. There was little reason for him to grab onto optimism when two world wars, including the German Occupation dictated the outcome of the islanders' lives. And soon afterwards it was the promiscuous, decadent vulgarity of the Sixties and Seventies, according to him. He adjusted slowly or not at all. Women in trousers were not welcome in his house. Tourism was destroying his beloved island. Young people could not remember the hell and damnation of the wars and did not care to know. Nobody wanted to look back.

As an old man, he had an urgent need to draw up a will. But he never got married and had no immediate heirs. He started to look for possible candidates, visiting old- and new acquaintances, and discovered a secret that changed his life. It changed mine completely. I never saw it coming!

This book will forever fascinate me. The skilled way in which a mystery was built into the slow-moving narrative will never be forgotten. What initially looked like memories written down haphazardly was in fact a master storyteller at work. It is only in the last pages that the magic exposed itself and the magnitude thereof became evident. I was actually speechless when the plot finally concluded.

Of course I will reread it. Do yourself a favor and read this book. Make time for it. Don't try to rush it. Be patient. You will be thoroughly rewarded. I was blown away! But of course, I read it emotionally and allowed myself the time to fall in love word for word for word. I wish it never ended.



Genres: Fiction, Guernsey Island, love story, diary, novel, WWI, WWII,
Formats: Paperback, Kindle
Number of pages:  427
Edition language: English
ISBN: 1590172337 (ISBN13: 9781590172339)

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