31 Days: A Memoir of Seduction by Marcia Gloster
Review by Anna Belfrage
For a person with such a romantic streak as this reviewer, it is somewhat difficult to approach a book with the beautiful dedication, “For W.T., who lives in my memory and at the edges of my dreams. And for every woman--and man--who has survived an impossible love and lived to laugh, and love, again.” After all, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Ms. Gloster will present us with a story that will probably end in heartache and tears. However, Ms. Gloster does not promise a romance; she promises a description of a month that would forever change her life.
A very young Marcia arrives in Salzburg in the summer of 1963. She is there to study art at the famous summer school run by Oscar Kokoschka, an expressionist artist who urges his students to look beyond the surface to what lies within. Already on her first day there, Marcia meets Bill Thomson, and when their eyes meet she feels “a sudden, powerful sensation wash over me.” Marcia, it would seem, has been struck by what the French call a coup de foudre – a lightning bolt of love (or lust). Bill Thomson is twice Marcia’s age. He is her instructor, a painter who returns year after year to teach at Salzburg. He is married, has a mistress on the side and on top of that he has the reputation of seducing his female students--and leaving them in tears after a night. All of this Marcia knows. All of this, she recognizes, as alarm bells that should have her running as fast as she can from this man with amber eyes. All of this, she ignores, as irrevocably drawn to the man as the moth to the flame.
31 Days is, on the face of things, the story of how an older man seduces a young girl--initially with the intention of spending only one night with her, subsequently recognising he wants somewhat more, especially as Marcia insists she is too intelligent to fall in love with him. All she wants is this one month. Such a story could easily have become a cliché, but thanks to Marcia’s honest description of her own feelings--and also because the author refrains from judging Bill – it develops into a bittersweet narrative, a heady affair that plays out under the ever louder ticking of the clock.
Life in Salzburg is not only about Bill and the nights Marcia spends with him. They are also about the young people she meets at art school, the boys who vie for her attention while warning her away from Bill. When Bill can’t spend time with Marcia--and he very often can’t, what with his mistress who pops by most weekends, the other young girls he now and then feels obliged to please--she spends time with fellow students Tony and Paul, who quickly become rivals for her affection. Except, of course, that Marcia lives and breathes for Bill, and every time she sees him with another woman it is like having her heart pierced with a lance.
31 Days is a personal memoir in first person narrative, so per definition the point of view becomes restricted to Marcia’s. While in general I feel first person point of view leads to one-dimensional stories, in this case it works--in actual fact, it would be difficult to do it otherwise, as a large part of what fascinates in this book is the enigmatic Bill. We never know just what he thinks or feels--except that there are instances when he is clearly as disturbed by Marcia’s boys as she is by his girls. Bill Thomson is a man who believes in living in the moment, and he also genuinely believes that all of us are capable of loving more than one--simultaneously, at times.
The relationship plays out under Bill’s control. He makes it very clear from the beginning that he will not accept any possessive behaviour, nor does he feel obliged to answer her questions or pander to her insecurities. Harsh, putting it mildly, and my heart goes out to the very young Marcia who tries so hard to remain cool and unaffected, appear poised and in control while handling the emotional turmoil Bill evokes. Her reward is their nights together, the long sessions in bed when Bill initiates her into a world of passion, finite moments in time Marcia will conserve as precious memories for the rest of her life.
For obvious reasons, 31 Days orbits round Marcia and Bill. Ms. Gloster has added other aspects, other characters, such as Tony and Paul, Marcia’s best friend Kate, and the irascible art instructor Krak. But these secondary personages never quite grow into full-fledged people, relegated to hover on the edges of things. I suppose this reflects the fact that for Marcia, those 31 days in Salzburg were essentially only about Bill.
Ms. Gloster writes a precise prose--sometimes almost too detached. At times, there was a clear disconnect between the sensual scene being depicted and the language utilised, resulting in a rather clinical description of passion. But in 31 Days, the story is strong enough to overcome this--and what Ms. Gloster lacks in her intimate scenes she compensates for in her description of Marcia’s thoughts.
Poignant and evocative, 31 Days is a book that illuminates the complexities of human relationships and emotions. It brings home the truth that sometimes, love is not enough. Amor Omnia Vincit is all very well, but some obstacles are too difficult for Cupid to overcome--especially when one loves more than the other. But ultimately, love of any kind is a gift, and Marcia will carry the memory of her days with Bill with her forever. Thirty one days she will never forget – the 31 days she had with Bill. And hey, many of us don’t even get that, do we?
|Author Marcia Gloster|
Marcia Gloster has spent most of her life in New York, building a successful career as an art director and book designer. Despite not becoming a full time artist, she does paint and has exhibited her paintings in various cities. 31 Days is her first book, and can be found on Amazon or Amazon UK. For more information, why not visit her website?
Anna Belfrage is the author of seven published books, all part of The Graham Saga. Set in the 17th century, the books tell the story of Matthew Graham and his time-travelling wife, Alex Lind. Anna can be found on amazon, twitter, facebook and on her website. If you would like Anna to review your book, please see our submissions tab.