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When the World Was Steady
Cover of When the World Was Steady
When the World Was Steady
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In this highly acclaimed novel by the author of The Emperor's Children, life isn't all Emmy and Virginia Simpson might have hoped. When Emmy's marriage to an Australian man ends, she flees her home in Sydney for the tropical paradise of Bali to "find herself"--only to become embroiled with an eclectic crew of international misfits and smugglers. Her sister Virginia, meanwhile, has never wandered far outside of London. Prim and pious, Virginia is struggling to find meaning in her life and her aging mother thinks a visit to the Isle of Skye is just what she needs. On these two islands halfway around the world, the middle-aged sisters confront their lives and their destinies with unexpected consequences.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs.

In this highly acclaimed novel by the author of The Emperor's Children, life isn't all Emmy and Virginia Simpson might have hoped. When Emmy's marriage to an Australian man ends, she flees her home in Sydney for the tropical paradise of Bali to "find herself"--only to become embroiled with an eclectic crew of international misfits and smugglers. Her sister Virginia, meanwhile, has never wandered far outside of London. Prim and pious, Virginia is struggling to find meaning in her life and her aging mother thinks a visit to the Isle of Skye is just what she needs. On these two islands halfway around the world, the middle-aged sisters confront their lives and their destinies with unexpected consequences.

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs.

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One PROLOGUETHE GRASS AND the damp soil oozed up between Melody Simpson's toes as she picked her way to the bottom of the garden to watch her children sleeping. It was a summer night, but brisk, and she clutched her dressing-gown around her as she went, patting at her hair although it was past midnight and there was nobody to see.The clear quiet sang, almost, in Melody Simpson's ears: it was the first summer after the war, the first summer of a new life, when—battered and bruised though He might be—God was in His Heaven and all was right with the world. Melody Simpson did not believe in God, of course, except as a figure of speech. Only at moments like this she was tempted. Before she remembered the rest.Virginia and Emmy had built themselves a tent from two large sticks and an old sheet weighed down at the corners by bricks from the wasteground up the road where the end-of-terrace house had been bombed out. The tent had been Emmy's idea, but at five she was too lazy or too young to execute it, and only when Virginia, a responsible if timorous nine-year-old, had taken on the project had it become real.Melody Simpson had to squat to peer in at them. Awake, the girls were always squabbling, their natures at once as fluid as air and as fixed as concrete and, above all, eternally opposed to one another. But asleep in their singlets and knickers, beneath a tartan blanket, their small, pale arms overlapping, they seemed to share their dreams and to be content.Melody Simpson could not have described the emotion she felt in this small hour of this free summer morning. She would not remember it, or not specifically. There may have been birds singing, and the breeze may have been full of the honeysuckle that grew along the wall, but Melody Simpson did not notice. What she felt was a longing, in her limbs and her belly and in her spirit, for her daughters' futures, for every joy or triumph that swirled in their dormant imaginations as well as in her own. Was this love? Or greed? Or selfishness? Or pain? Or the anticipation of certain disappointment? Had she believed in God, she might have deemed it a moment of prayer. But she didn't, and didn't. And being the sort of person who thought such reflection a tedious waste of time, she tugged a little at their blanket, by way of maternal rearrangement, and then tiptoed back across the lawn and up to her own solitary bed.BALIBALI IS NOT a big island: it is fifty miles wide at its widest, and at most ninety miles long. But it is big enough to get lost on. Kuta Beach, the tourist resort on the island's south coast, must only be a couple of miles in diameter, but one can get lost there, too, amid crazy alleyways of bars and brothels and pirate tape shops, or along the crowded hillocks of sand patrolled by hawkers and deal-makers and old women offering massages. The Balinese, remarkably adaptable, have simply severed Kuta Beach from the island, like amputating a limb—in their minds, of course. To go to Kuta Beach is, for a Balinese, to leave Bali. It is so simple.The real Bali, then, is to be found higher up or further out, along narrow, winding roads or in emerald rice paddies or over on the destitute, lava-scarred eastern plain where the tourists never go. In all these places that are 'really' Bali, the watchful, angry mountain Agung dominates. There are other, smaller mountains—Abang for the devout, Batur for tourists. But Agung is the mountain of the gods, fierce, unpredictable givers and takers of life. Everything depends on Agung, and everyone is situated by it.Not to know where you are, not to know where the mountain is: in Balinese there is a word for this, palang. To be palang is to be paralysed: not to be able to work...
About the Author-
  • Claire Messudwas educated at Cambridge and Yale. Her first novel, When the World Was Steady, and her most recent book, The Hunters, were both finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award; her second novel, The Last Life, was a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and Editor's Choice at The Village Voice. All three of her books were New York Times Notable Books of the Year. She has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Radcliffe Fellowship, and is the current recipient of the Straus Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband and children.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 4, 1995
    Two estranged sisters, their worlds turned upside-down, pursue separate quests for identity on exotic islands before being reunited in Messud's wonderfully observant debut novel. Emmy Simpson left London in 1960 at age 20 to marry a dashing Australian publisher. Twenty-seven years later, divorced (dumped by her husband for her friend) and at odds with her rebellious daughter Portia, a sculptor, she exits Sydney for the Indonesian isle of Bali. There, her credo that we create our destiny is sorely tested as she falls in with a group of exiles, misfits, long-haired idealists and eager young women dominated by a sleazy transplanted Australian antiques smuggler. Meanwhile, Emmy's prim, evangelical sister Virginia, who lives in London and cares for their invalid, eccentric, death-obsessed mother, is ordered to take a leave of absence by her married boss--on whom she has a mad crush. Her faith wavering, Virginia joins her mother on a trip to the isle of Skye in the Hebrides, accompanied by Nikhil Gupta, an Indian student, searching for his runaway sister, who eloped with a Scot. Shuttling among Sydney, London, Bali and Skye, the American-born Messud, who lives in London, weaves a beautiful, bittersweet story about the painful cost of self-knowledge and the unpredictability of life.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 30, 2017
    Voice actor Arserio carries listeners along on the gentle flow of Messud’s fine prose in this new recording of her 1994 novel. Arserio has a pleasant voice, an unobtrusive British accent, and a knack for smooth transitions from emotion to emotion. Her pacing, pausing, inflections, and emphasis keep listeners involved in the parallel narratives: pious, introverted, dutiful daughter Virginia and her needy and extroverted mother, as they traverse Scotland’s Isle of Skye; Virginia’s estranged sister Emmy and her bizarre group of misfits and smugglers on the island of Bali; Virginia’s friend Angelica and the Indian student Nikhil, who is searching for his sister who eloped with a Scot. Each character expresses a similar type of imbalance, searching simultaneously for childhood innocence and adult freedom. Arserio’s smooth handling of the low-key drama of each life “somewhere between fear and triumph” makes this a strong and rewarding listen. A Norton paperback.

  • The Chicago Tribune

    "[Messud is] a novelist of unnerving talent." --The New York Times Book Review"A fine first novel, and the 'first' is deceptive, for its author has the daring and assurance to take on Iris Murdoch-like questions about goodness and truth." --The New Yorker"In its rich detail and its humor, this is a wry, uplifting book." --The Independent on Sunday (London)"Beautiful. . . . [Messud] proceeds, sentence by sentence, image by image, character by character, to create a fully realized, multi-layered world. . . . [She] has the imagination, the craft and the understanding of human nature to write about anything she chooses."

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When the World Was Steady
When the World Was Steady
Claire Messud
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