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Year Before Last by Kay Boyle

Year Before Last (1932)

by Kay Boyle

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Year Before Last by Kay Boyle

This is the story of Hannah and Martin, who live a transient life together in Europe after meeting in Paris. Hannah has left her husband to live with Martin, a brilliant but rude poet, writer and editor of a magazine which is strong armed by his possessive aunt. The couple reads together, sit in hotels, and take walks with the dogs. But beneath the bohemian calm, there are tremors. Martin has tuberculosis. His Scotch aunt Eve, who financed his literary magazine, has furiously withdrawn her money. She is over-the-top jealous of Hannah and fears the loss of her relationship with Martin.
Martin and Hannah are penniless. They borrow and scheme to make it appear as if they have money as they move from district to district and from hotel to hotel. Unwanted guests due to Martin’s tuberculosis, they are often kicked out after one night because of his coughing. They have few options. He knows he is dying, but refuses to go to a sanatorium.
Hannah will do anything to keep Martin alive. She lies, prevents their friends from forcibly sending him away, and gives Martin prescribed injections of opium to ease him in his illness. And his Aunt Eve weaves in and out of their lives throughout the narrative.
The story is tragic but compelling, beautiful but bleak. It is written in a rather different manner but after the first few pages that is forgotten. I liked the story even though I knew early on what the outcome would be. The characters are interesting and there is an ease about the way it is written given the subject matter. I gave this one 3 1/2 stars. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | May 4, 2013 |
This is a book that I picked up on a whim in my local used book store because it is a Virago Modern Classics edition. I'd never heard of the book or the author. The story is about the love between Martin and Hannah. Both are young, in their 20s, and have left someone to be together. Hannah has left her husband behind after falling in love at first sight with Martin, and Martin has chosen Hannah over the financial support of his Aunt Eve. While Hannah's husband is all but absent from the book, Eve is a never-ending presence as she holds the purse strings to Martin's true love - his avant-garde literary magazine that he edits and contributes to. Hannah finds that Martin has no money of his own and they move from hotel to hotel in southern France, first running from bills and then leaving as proprietors refuse to let the deathly ill Martin stay in their hotel. His lung illness is gruesome and described in detail as Hannah nurses him through fits where he loses containers of blood.

The book ends up being a sort of love triangle between Hannah, Martin, and Eve/the magazine. I started out really liking it, was pretty put off by the tone in the middle, and then got engrossed in the end. Especially in the middle, I started to feel like even though the writing is descriptive and romantic I was being kept at a distance from everything. That's strange to feel in such a narrowly focused book. Then I read the afterword and discovered that this is a highly autobiographical work and that [Boyle] really did watch her lover die an excruciating death. Then the distance seemed to make more sense as I imagine this was pretty painful to write. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Jul 6, 2012 |
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This book is dedicated to Emanuel Carnevali
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The chateau he brought her to had been built by a French shoeman at the high mouth of the valley.
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From the book cover: Hannah leaves her husband to be with the brilliant writer and editor, Martin, in a chateau on the French Riviera. He had planned to buy lobster in celebration of her arrival, but there are unpaid bills and they must live hand to mouth. Drifting through these sensuous early days, they are pursued by Hannah's memories and the more vigilant shadow of Eve, Martin's rich and possessive aunt. And as their relationship develops life becomes a tangle of hotel rooms and prying eyes, caught between the luxuriance of love and Eve's malicious jealousy. This richly-textured novel, first published in 1932, reveals Kay Boyle's strength as an innovative Modernist writer. Exploring love - and the death of love - it is delicate, precise and lyrical.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140161465, Paperback)

Kay Boyle’s second novel, Year Before Last, was published in 1932 by Harrison Smith in New York and by Faber and Faber in London, in each case a true edition from different settings of type. Matthew J. Bruccoli, the textual editor of the Cross­currents/Modern Fiction series, has used the Harrison Smith edition in preparing this volume which is unique in the annals of textual editing of a modern novel because the emendations in the copy-text have been approved by the author. Harry T. Moore has provided a Preface which considers this work in relation to Miss Boyle’s development as a novelist. Mr. Bruccoli’s Note on the Text provides information about both the 1932 editions and lists the emendations.


Against the background of the French Riviera we watch the unfolding of the story of a young woman who has left her husband for another man, a poet of compelling personality. Their love affair is complicated by the insane jealousy of an older woman which leads them to acts of desperation. This novel of love and hate moves forward in swift incident and action to a dramatic end.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:47 -0400)

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