Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Coming of Age novels

I've recently read two novels which fit into this category. Giorgio Bassani's THE GARDEN OF THE FINZI-CONTINIS and Olive Anne Burns' COLD SASSY TREE. In other ways they could hardly be more different. Bassani's novel, published in 1962, is elegaic. lyrical,
and poignant. It is set in Ferrara in the 1930s and we know from the beginning that the Jewish family of the Finzi-Continis, including the daughter, Micol, with whom the first-person narrator falls in love, will end by perishing in the gas chambers - most of the narrator's family too. Bassani grew up in the Jewish community of Ferrara and drew on his own experience of anti-semitism in the thirties.
In COLD SASSY TREE (1984), published when the writer was sixty, Olive Ann Burns was drawing not on her own life, but on the stories that her father told about growing up in Georgia at the beginning of the century. She writes from the point of view of Will Tweedy, a young man in his twenties, recollecting his experiences as a fourteen year old boy. It is a tour-de-force, never less than convincing, funny, touching, even bawdy as Will observes the marriage between his very recently widowed grandfather and a much younger woman turn from a marriage of convenience into a real love match - and suffers the pleasures and pains of first love himself.
It's not surprising that so many writers should tackle this subject - that period of life is so vivid, so memorable. And it's interesting too that these are often one-off novels. Olive Ann Burns planned a sequel, but it was never finished. And the one-off novels I wrote about in an earlier blog, TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, LE GRAND MEALNES, were coming of age novels too.

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