The Beach House
The New York Times bestseller and ultimate beach read from the author of Second Chance
Nan Powell is a free-spirited, sixty-five-year-old widow who's not above skinny-dipping in her neighbors' pools when they're away and who dearly loves her Nantucket home. But when she discovers that the money she thought would last forever is dwindling, she realizes she must make drastic changes to save her beloved house. So Nan takes out an ad: Rooms to rent for the summer in a beautiful old Nantucket home with water views and direct access to the beach.
Slowly people start moving in to the house, filling it with noise, laughter, and with tears. As the house comes alive again, Nan finds her family and friends expanding. Her son comes home for the summer, and then an unexpected visitor turns all their lives upside down. As she did so masterfully in her New York Times bestseller Second Chance, Jane Green once again proves herself one of the preeminent writers of contemporary women's fiction.
The bike crunches along the gravel path, weaving around the potholes that could present danger to someone who didn't know the road like the back of their hand.
The woman on the bike raises her head and looks at the ski, sniffs, smiles to herself. A foggy day in Nantucket, but she has lived here long enough to know this is merely a morning fog, and the bright early-June sunshine will burn it off by midday, leaving a beautiful afternoon.
Good. She is planning lunch on the deck today, is on her way into town via her neighbor's house, where she has spent the last hour or so cutting the large blue mophead hydrangeas and stuffing them into the basket on the front of the bike. She doesn't really know these neighbors so strange to live in the same house you have lived in for forty-five years, a house in a town where once you knew everyone, until one day you wake up and realize you don't know people anymore but she has guessed from the drawn blinds and absence of cars they are not yet here, and they will not miss a couple of dozen hydrangea heads.
The gate to their rear garden was open, and she had heard around town they had brought in some super-swanky garden designer. She had to look. And the pool had been open, the water was so blue, so inviting, it was practically begging her to strip off and jump in, which of course she did, her body still slim and strong, her legs tan and muscled from the daily hours on the bike.
She dried off naturally, walking naked around the garden, popping strawberries and peas into her mouth in the kitchen garden, admiring the roses that were just starting, and climbing back into her clothes with a contented sigh when she was quite dry.
These are the reasons Nan has come to have a reputation for being slightly eccentric. A reputation she is well aware of, and a reputation she welcomes, for it affords her freedom, allows her to do the things she really wants to do, the things other people don't dare, and because she is thought of as eccentric, exceptions are always made.
It is, she thinks wryly, one of the beautiful things about growing old, so necessary when there is so much else that is painful. At sixty-five she still feels thirty, and on occasion, twenty, but she has long ago left behind the insecurities she had at twenty and thirty, those niggling fears: that her beauty wasn't enough, not enough for the Powell family; that she had somehow managed to trick Everett Powell into marrying her; that once her looks started to fade, they would all realize she wasn't anyone, wasn't anything, and would then treat her as she had always expected when she first married into this illustrious family... as nothing.
Her looks had served her well. Continue to serve her well. She is tall, skinny and strong, her white hair is glossy and sleek, pulled back in a chignon, her cheekbones still high, her green eyes still twinkling with amusement under perfectly arched brows.
Nan's is a beauty that is rarely seen these days, a natural elegance and style that prevailed throughout the fifties, but as mostly disappeared today, although Nan doesn't see it, not anymore
Now when she looks in the mirror she sees the lines, her cheeks concave under her cheekbones, the skin so thin it sometimes seems that she can see her bones. She covers as many of the imperfections as she can with makeup, still feels that she cannot leave her house without full makeup, her trademark scarlet lipstick the first thing she puts on every morning, before her underwear even, before her bath.
But these days her makeup is sometimes patchy, her lipstick smudging over the lines in her lips, lines that they warned her about in the eighties, when her son tried to get her to stop smoking, holding up photographs in magazines of women with dead, leathery skin.
"I can't give up smoking," she would say, frowning. "I enjoy it too much, but I promise you, as soon as I stop enjoying it, I'll give it up."
The day is yet to come.
Thirty years younger and she would never have dared trespass, swim naked in an empty swimming pool without permission. Thirty years younger and she would have cared too much what people thought, wouldn't have cut flowers or carefully dug up a few strawberry plants that would certainly not be missed, to replant them in her own garden.
But thirty years younger and perhaps, if she had dared and had been caught, she would have got away with it. She would have apologized, would have invited the couple back for a drink, and the husband would have flirted with her, would have taken the pitcher of rum punch out of her hand and insisted on pouring it for her as she bent her head down to light her cigarette, looking up at him through those astonishing green eyes, flicking her blond hair ever so slightly and making him feel like the most important man in the room, hell, the only man in the room, the wife be damned.
Thirty years younger and the women might have ignored her, but not, as they do now, because they think she's the crazy woman in the big old house on the bluff, but because they were threatened, because they were terrified that she might actually have the power to take their men, ruin their lives. And they were right.
Not that she ever did.
Not back then.
Of course there have been a few affairs, but Nan was never out to steal a man from someone else, she just wanted some fun, and after Everett died, after years of being on her own, she came to realize that sometimes sex was, after all, just sex, and sometimes you just had to take it where you could find it."Green gives you a clear sense of Nantucket's weathered splendor and offers up a refreshing summertime getaway...best read on a deck chair somewhere."
"A sweetly memorable summer story, capturing the relaxing, renewing quality of life at the shore. . ."
-New Orleans Times-Picayune
"Green's best novel in years, a compelling, unputdownable read."
Q. Where did you find your inspiration for this particular book? Is Nan based on anyone in your own life?
When I first moved into my tiny cottage by the beach the summer of my divorce, I found myself falling slowly in love with my landlord (we now live together, in a bigger house a couple of blocks away). Part of our courtship involved long walks by the beach at midnight, and there was a fabulously glamorous woman of a certain age whom we used to see riding her bike, cigarette in hand, at one or two in the morning. I was fascinated by her, and certainly held that image of her while I was creating Nan.
Q. Throughout your work, you've created a number of memorable heroines. Is it possible to read Nan as an older version of any of the younger heroines you've written about in earlier books? Are there any different considerations necessary when writing about an older character?
I think my characters all share similar sensibilities, and perhaps the only real difference with Nan is that age has given her a wisdom and an acceptance that some of the younger characters might not have. I don't ever stop to analyze whether something makes sense—when I'm writing characters, and particularly someone as vivid as Nan, they become their own people, and I allow them, as pretentious as it may sound, to dictate their own behavior.
Q. The women in The Beach House could be seen as existing on the same plane of female experience but at different points in their lives: daughters, mistresses, wives, single parents, widows. What connections, if any, did you intend the reader to draw between these characters?
I'm not sure I intend my readers to draw connections between the characters, but more to draw connections between each of the characters and their own lives. While we may not have been mistresses, widows, single parents, etc., my hope is always that their truths resonate with us—that we are able to understand their plight because it could so easily be ours.
Q. At Windermere, the characters are able to be true to themselves in ways that their former lives didn't permit, for in order to be good spouses, parents, or employees, it is often necessary to suppress or sacrifice aspects of one's identity. Has this ever been true in your own life?
Ah yes. I was married at thirty, and very much shoehorned myself into who I thought I was expected to be. Like many women, I am something of a chameleon, but as I have grown older I have come to realize that it is necessary to be all things at all times, and that when we try to suppress a part of ourselves for any length of time, it can only lead to unhappiness. I played a part during my marriage, revealing only the side of my character that fitted in with the role I was expected to play, and it is only now, post-divorce, with a new love, that I am able to be fully myself.
Q. The issue of infidelity appears repeatedly in the novel, and from a number of different perspectives. Why did you decide to use that as a recurring theme? As an author, how did you manage to stay sympathetic to both the victims and guilty parties involved in the affairs?
I have always been fascinated by the notion of infidelity, by what makes people commit this ultimate betrayal, by how so many seem to be able to compartmentalize their lives. On the one hand, they have families, children, people they love, and on the other, they are able to sleep with other people, believing it to be just physical, or somehow quite separate from their family life. I have been around infidelity, and I suspect keep writing about it in a quest for some understanding.
Q. You are known for presenting romance in a realistic light, flaws and all. Why is that important to you? Is it difficult to present realistic romantic relationships while maintaining optimism and enthusiasm? How do you believe the storybook images of romance presented in books and films today affect women's expectations of love?
My answer today is very different from my answer of ten years ago. Ten years ago I didn't believe in storybook romance, confused lust and passion with love, had no real understanding of what it meant, and consequently settled for less than I deserved. Ten years on, I now know what love is—that it is, as I wrote in my first novel, Straight Talking, passion, admiration, and respect. But that it is also kindness, consideration, and peace. I absolutely believe that romance is alive and thriving and that it is absolutely possible to have the great relationships we see in movies, but that they may not come in the form we expect.
Q. You created a large cast of characters in The Beach House—which character is your favorite?
I think I probably adore Nan most of all—her love of life and acceptance of life on life's terms, but Daniel is also close to my heart. He was perhaps the most frightening to write—his story, after all, is clearly not mine—but I love his journey and seeing him find himself.
Q. The Beach House moves through a number of characters' plot lines and yet the narrative is always clear and the stories blend seamlessly. What are some of the difficulties specific to managing multiple narratives? How do you keep all the characters' stories clear during the writing process?
Whoever your inspiration, whatever you have drawn upon to create their characters, when you get it right they very quickly become their own people, with distinctive voices, quirks, and actions. I so often feel like I am watching a movie in my head, simply putting down on the page what I see my characters do, with no conscious direction from me.
Q. As a writer, what is it about the female experience you find so intriguing and rich in material? Would you ever consider writing a novel entirely from a male perspective?
I am intrigued by our chameleon-like qualities, by our people-pleasing, by our intuition and strength. I haven't yet wanted to write a novel from a male point of view, but who knows what will happen.
Q. What experience or emotions do you hope your readers take away from The Beach House? Do you have a particular message or lesson at the core of your novels?
When I look back over the novels I wrote during my marriage, I realize how many of my female protagonists were married and unhappy, or lonely, or searching. From Sam in Babyville to Amber in Swapping Lives, I think those women were reflective of where I was, but couldn't face. I have written for a long time about women on a journey to find happiness. But I realized only recently that happiness comes in the form of peace, and now, at the core of my novels, I would say is the quest for peace, for home.
Q. Your novels are very popular both in the U.S. and in the U.K., you have very loyal fans, and you maintain an active Web site. What are some of the most surprising, touching, or memorable responses you've had to your work so far?
My readers continue to astound me with extraordinary and heartfelt letters. Writing is such a solitary life, and every one of those letters touches me and inspires me to carry on.
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