You take what you get in this game, and sometimes some alarm bells sound. With Under the Sun, we weren’t off to a very good start, with an introduction to this book which went into detail about décor and dinner menus, which didn’t add anything to the unfolding narrative more than simply declare ‘this person has solid taste and is clever in the kitchen’. Like if Donna Hay decided to pen a novel, the prologue is rife with references to almond soup and rustic bathroom tiling. I was thinking it was going to be a hard slog, this book – reminding me of a tome I recently had to force myself through (for this very site), written by a food blogger, who somehow turned the food-as-art phenomenon of Instagram into literature. Not good literature, by any stretch of the imagination.
It was, however, a pleasant relief to have Moggach’s sophomore book start proper once the opening salvo was fired, and the detailed food and décor references were jettisoned. Were I to offer notes – and why else am I here? – it would have been to jettison the entire prologue: its function serves thusly: I was in a relationship with a man I loved, in Spain, and he loved me, then didn’t, and his friends were twats. Things got hard and I’m on my own.
Under the Sun, once it gets cracking is an enjoyable beach read painted with broad contextual strokes of the very recent history – expat Brits living the dream in Spain until the GFC hits and sends them all tits-up. It’s a novel which touches on the personal, the geo-political and the social; Moggach’s expat characters, of which there are many, usually Brits of the smarmy mould who have to eat their smugness or return to Blighty when the numbers get tight.
It is a breezy, intriguing read: Moggach writes with a unique and insightful perspective into adult relationships, clandestine or otherwise. The way she describes the thought processes simple animal magnetism works in that it’s not composed from the male gaze (the best examples can ring suspiciously true, the worst are cringeworthy). It’s all too truthful how she ponders about the death of a former relationship, and Moggach writes with the kind of insight about the lives of expat Brits that could only have been experienced by those in the know. The smugness found in some expatriates needs to be experienced first had, I can tell you this much – the vehemence with which they hold their former nation and the people in it…
In what starts out as a meditative, almost morose contemplation on a life led alone, a more prescient and socially conscious narrative thread unfolds, one about illegal migrant workers and the exploitative conditions under which they exist. Truthfully, as a novel it could have done without the semi-regular rustic décor name checking, or the seemingly tokenistic references to jamon and whatever other Spanish morsels get tossed about, underscoring the inescapable notion that we are in Spain for the duration. Minor quibbles, but quibbles nonetheless.
Under the Sun manages to achieve something noteworthy – crafting within the framework of a breezy tome set in the Mediterranean a solid treatise on the relative privileges of the white middle class, multiculturalism and a greater geo-political reality. It’s a page turner.