Nunez, daffodils, holy wells again

Sigrid Nunez, Salvation City. Virago paperback, 2020. First published 2010

I thought Sigrid Nunez’ 2018 novel The Friend (link to my post HERE) was an intelligent, well-written and highly engaging read. I was disappointed by Salvation City.

Nunez, Salvation City coverMaybe it’s because it’s set in an imagined near-future flu pandemic in which many die – including some of the central characters in the narrative. Given our current dire situation here in the UK, where we’ve just entered our third lockdown in response to a scary surge in Covid cases, it wasn’t perhaps the best choice to cheer me up.

I don’t think that fully accounts for my dissatisfaction with the novel. The long central section has the 13-year-old protagonist, a sensitive lad named Cole, being more or less indoctrinated by a group of well-meaning religious zealots who live in the city of the novel’s title. They are convinced that the pandemic is God’s way of initiating the rapture, and only the chosen (ie those same fundamentalists) will achieve ‘salvation’.

I very nearly gave up on the novel after too many pages of their fanatical self-righteousness. Towards the end Cole shows signs of asserting himself and going his own way, but by then I’d almost ceased caring.

I’m afraid I can’t recommend this one – but do try The Friend. Don’t worry about the dog in it.

DaffodilsInstead here’s an image from yesterday’s local walk. In the grounds of Epiphany House (I recently wrote during first lockdown in April about this former convent and school, now a retreat and conference centre – though not much retreating or conferring is happening there at the moment – HERE). These are the first daffodils I’ve seen this winter. They lifted our spirits. Spring is on the way

It’s weird to be walking our local lanes and paths in a January lockdown, almost a year since we started doing this pretty much every day as our only permitted exercise during the first pandemic restrictions. We’ve seen spring flowers come and go, summer hedgerows burst into life, autumn and now midwinter. Soon the cycle will be back where we started. I guess the message is that life goes on (despite the efforts of our hapless leaders, who seem always to be tardily reactive, rather than proactive and firmly decisive).

Holywell Finally a picture taken the previous day at a north Cornwall beach we haven’t been to in ages: Holywell Bay. There are two holy wells in the area: one, a sea cave in the cliffs over the beach (the tide was too high for us to enter it), the other in what’s now a holiday park in the nearby village of Cubert. Their holy, healing qualities are said to derive from association with the northern English St Cuthbert, or a Welsh St Cubert.

The figure just visible in my picture top left is my brother-in-law, peering into the abyss. No, he was investigating a curious concrete structure in the clifftop – possibly some sort of bunker: this area adjoins Penhale, a stretch of sand dunes on which there’s a military establishment which the public can’t access. This is where Cornwall’s patron saint, Piran, is said to have landed on his miraculous stone from Ireland. I wrote about him and his oratory in the dunes HERE back in 2016.

You can read more about the wells and this area HERE. Link to my two posts on Bede’s Life of Cuthbert HERE.


Happy New Year to you all. As we’re all saying at the moment, surely this will be an improvement on last year.



10 thoughts on “Nunez, daffodils, holy wells again

  1. That’s a pity about the Nunez, Simon. I’ve heard good things about her other books, The Friend in particular, so it’s a shame that this one didn’t hit the spot. You may have listened to it already, or maybe you’re not a podcast person – but if you are, there’s a Virago podcast featuring Nunez that might be of interest. I think it’s called OurShelves, hosted by Lucy Scholes.

    • I am a podcast person, and did catch that Nunez one – in fact you’ve reminded me that I intended including a link to it in my post! It’s well worth listening to. It is called Our Shelves, and it’s the 16 November edition.

  2. Simon: glad you were up for doing the post, which I enjoyed although the Nunez was disappointing. As I said before, I’m familiar with her work only from reviews and haven’t actually read any of her novels. After your review, I will definitely not be starting with Salvation City! I do appreciate your reassurance about the fate of the dog in The Friend, which has greatly increased the possibility that it will be my first Nunez (or I might go with The Last of Her Kind, which has been on my shelf growing mold for quite some time).
    Lovely photos as always; I’m very envious of those daffodils (I think my part of Florida is too far south for bulb flowers like tulips & daffodils, which are some of my favorites).

    • The Virago podcast interview with her mentioned in Jacqui’s comment is worth catching, too. From what I’ve read and heard SN’s new one is good, too. I remember seeing an iguana in South Beach, so I can understand that daffodils aren’t compatible with the climate.

    • It’s always heartening to see the first daffodils of the year. There are several places in the area where they often appear around Christmas. And yes, the novel was a disappointment after the pleasure of The Friend.

    • They are usually early in Cornwall & especially the Isles of Scilly – Gulf Stream keeps the SW peninsula mild in winter. We have had frost this week, though. I saw a shot on TV news last night of a place in Cumbria, up by the border with Scotland, where daffodils were in bud – I think some varieties do flower as early as January. And I’ve mentioned in my previous post the early camellia flowers locally. Spears of other bulbs are shooting up everywhere, too. Snowdrops will be out soon.

  3. I have the Friend on my shelf unread. I’ll skip Salvation. I’m thinking of you all in the Uk. We are happily (mainly) ensconced on our island . Our premiere keeps the bridge up over the moat so no one can get off or on the island. Waiting to escape.

    • Pam: I don’t like deterring people from reading particular books; we all have different taste. The portrayal of an early teenage boy is pretty good, but I think the plot elements I mentioned are likely to put off some potential readers. We in the UK look with envy at places like NZ (I think that’s where you are?) and its sensible leader. We are stuck with a bumbling narcissist public schoolboy chancer. We’re an island too, but it still hasn’t occurred to our government that shutting us off from imported infections via air and other transport routes might be a good idea. Maybe even testing travellers entering from abroad. Quarantine the infected ones, that kind of thing. I hope you enjoy The Friend, if you read it.

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