Warts and all, I print below one reader’s response to Virgin Territory. You can tell she’s British by all those unexpected “u’s”, so as you read, think of The King’s Speech, and listen for Heather’s proper accent, well-modulated tones and precisely-enunciated vowels. She’s a book editor in London, and was writing to her cousin Millie, who runs a local coffee shop, Chac Mool in Chacala.
After finishing the book I wanted to go back and read it again to savour all the things I had missed or not concentrated upon the first time, while sitting at the pool at Casa Mañana or wherever. To want to go back and look again is surely the mark of something worth reading and I think Susan’s book certainly was that, even though it is clearly a “memoir” and not to be approached as a universal work of great profundity. But, nonetheless, there were several universal themes that would strike chords with most (in particular women) readers.
What impressed me most was how she manages really skilfully to keep all the themes going: obviously the significance of the Virgin Mary and the “feminine” side to religion, illness, moving to another country, changing one’s lifestyle, getting rid of passed troubles mentally and physically, keeping the same old hubby, and the decisions one makes as one travels through life, etc. She manages this really well and it hardly ever seems laboured. I think this must be really difficult stuff to write and still keep the reader interested enough but she manages it. I was genuinely interested in the historical and religious bits. There was a lot that was new to me (all that Christianity arriving in Mexico before the Spanish, etc.).
The whole book and the way she writes reminded me of several books fashionable in the sixties such as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which were hippyish books of philosophy and spiritual self-help but from the angle of everyday chores and choices. You identify with the theme but you are not really sure why.
But in a way, I would have liked more about Mexico and the area of Guayabitos, more flavour of Mexico and fewer themes because I felt in the end they were pretty much packed in and there were too many. Not too many for Susan’s skill at keeping them all going but too many for my poor brain and my inadequacy in remembering all the points being made.
Fair enough, Heather! There is a lot packed into Virgin Territory. When one waits until one is sixty to write a book, and one thinks it may be the only one one will get out — OK, I went a little overboard. (And no, I’m really not imitating your British accent.)
I definitely spilled over genre guidelines. Does this book go under Travel, Women’s Studies, Religion, Social Commentary, Spiritual Autobiography — if there is such a thing? With apologies, Heather, I was recently told by a literary agent (in a harrumphy sort of way) that it was definitely not a memoir. Perhaps a collection of essays? One reader in Texas said she was reading it in little pieces, like a daily devotional. Oh, well. It is what it is, whatever that may be. Here’s what other readers think.