Simon & Schuster AU
Copy courtesy of the publisher
It’s 1978 and Solomon Andrews, a high school English teacher moves to a small country town to take up a new position and perhaps escape a whisper of scandal.
Living next door to him is one of his students, a shy fifteen year old girl who watches him from behind the windows of her house. This doesn’t bother Solomon – he’s used to the attention of teenage girls. He’s young, he has long hair, he dresses differently to the teachers they know and he teaches in a way that they’re not used to. At first the girl watching him is a source of amusement….but then the notes begin to arrive.
He knows they’re from her but he’s surprised that this shy girl can write with such unabashed passion and abandonment. Against his better judgement, he becomes interested, the sweet letters awakening in him a desire to have her. To open her up and get to know her and introduce her to the unknown pleasures she hints at in her letters. Solomon tries to resist her words – this is a complication he doesn’t need. He finds solace in the arms of other women, ones who are more experienced and know the game. But her words continue to stir him and their game of her watching him has stepped up a little as he begins to show her more and more of himself. One day when he’s reading her latest letter, he turns around and there she is.
Soloman’s decision will have not just a long term effect on the girl, as she seeks to negotiate this adult world that she is catapulted into, but also himself.
I have to admit, The Yearning took me by surprise. The student-teacher story line is something I always find fascinating (maybe because all of my teachers were so imminently unattractive and unlikable, I’m baffled) so I wasted no time requesting this one. I expected perhaps a YA type story due to the age of the teenage girl but The Yearning isn’t that. On one hand, it”s a sensual and very erotic story of a girl’s sexual awakening. She develops a crush on her teacher, a man of already questionable morals who has been forced to leave one teaching post after an incident with a teenage student. You can tell that Soloman does attempt to resist the passionate words of the letters but they excite something within him, perhaps the desire for more than just a simple sexual gratification, even if he doesn’t realise it. To be honest, his attempts are not very good… he strikes me as an inherently selfish person, even as he is generous in bed and in his teachings of the ways of passion with his student. I don’t say love, because Soloman doesn’t give her much in the way of that, even though she falls so desperately in love with him. She’s not worldly, she’s quite sheltered in her small country town, not many friends, very little experience with boys. It was inevitable that she would fall in love with Soloman, just as to me, it was inevitable the way their affair/relationship would go. Generous with his body but not with his feelings, feelings that he perhaps doesn’t even recognise in himself. For a large portion of the book, I wasn’t very sure what to feel about Soloman. He gave his student something that at first glance was wrong – sleazy and secretive, taking advantage when he was in a position of power. However that pales in comparison to the fact that the gave her something she would search fruitlessly, endlessly for, years afterwards. She could never reproduce those feelings, find that generosity in another partner.
However ultimately, my feelings for Soloman came to be pity. I think he believes he lives the ultimate care free life – no commitments, no wife, no children, not even any girlfriends. Just another town, more pretty women who know the score (and some who don’t). He relishes in attention and pleasure, a tactile connection rather than an emotional one. In fact I came to feel pity for his former teenage lover too – in her attempts to seek what she had with Soloman in adulthood, she succumbs to the first instances where she feels it might be possible and ends up unhappy, unsatisfied in a failing marriage to a man she doesn’t understand, doesn’t know anymore and doesn’t love. She can’t let go of the thoughts of Soloman, her lover from so long ago and she needs to do that as an adult, in order to be truly happy and satisfied.
The Yearning certainly gave me a lot more than I bargained for and I definitely enjoyed the ride. It’s a book I find hard to classify – it’s more explicit sexually than I expected, especially given the ages of Soloman and his student but it’s much more than that. It’s an exploration of sexuality and feeling, it’s a deeper insight into what makes that connection, how it can be found in unlikely places and then lost. It’s about a fear of intimacy (not sexual, but emotional) and perhaps a chance missed. It’s a rich journey, well written. I may not have much in common with either of the characters but I often find dissatisfaction easy to relate to. We all have regrets, we are all searching for something that will make us feel, or keep the feelings alive.
Book #104 of 2013
The Yearning is book #44 of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013