Once upon a time I thrived on such novels as "Mykonos" - those literate romances by writers like Mary Stewart or Rumer Godden, writers who knew their business. They created vivid worlds where troubled young woman solved personal problems in exotic settings with the help of sensitive males. Both their heroines and their books were well bred, their prose well crafted. It did not matter if there was more or less suspense and adventure, or even if the woman ultimately got the man. A hundred details might differ, but the point remained. The character had learned something about herself, she had changed; she had flowered, if briefly, and life would never again be the same.
It is summer on the Greek island of Mykonos, and Delphine Draper, Minnie Warburton's 15-year-old American heroine, is about to feel that change. Although Warburton's dialogue is contemporary, and her treatment of the tensions and jealousies in a mother-daughter-sister triangle serious, at heart, "Mykonos" is a traditional story of coming of age.
Delphine is vacationing with her divorced mother Nicole and her younger sister Amanda. Restless, irritable, unpredictable in her moods, she alternately complains, sits silently, and yearns for her family's affection. When a telegram announces her father David's remarriage, she is shocked and hurt. Comfort comes only from roaming the beautiful island. Then she meets Valerie, a warm independent Englishwoman, and her 17-year old son Simon. Delphine and Simon became lovers and the fairy tale on maturity begins. Through him she comes to accept herself and her bond with Nicole and Amanda.
Much of the book deals not with Simon, however, but with Delphine's childhood: her unplanned birth, her care by an efficient, cold nurse, and the fights, separation and divorce of her parents. Amanda's birth, desired by Nicole, provokes jealousy and fear. Delphine is ambivalent towards all the members of her family. Neglected as an infant, she develops a stubborn self sufficiency layered over an intense need for love.
Warburton captures the anger, panic and loneliness of the child, the irrational, sudden irritations: "Amanda's legs were stretched out in front of her. She didn't have any shoes on, only red socks. She's too small, thought Delphine arbitrarily, too small." She also conveys the complexity of family feelings. Delphine, Nicole and Amanda provide elusive support for each other, despite their conflicts. They fear and need David. He is himself an interesting character, vulnerable and overbearing, uneasy with this group of difficult, inward women. Valerie is also intriguing. Her warmth contrasts with Nicole's dryness, and Delphine, though drawn to her, feels uncomfortable in her presence.
These relationships and responses are developed only to a certain point. Just as they are about to gel, to say something of Delphine's growth, they are abandoned for the idyll of young love and the hasty "self knowledge" and peace of mind she wins through her liaison with Simon. "Mykonos" shifts from a specific exploration of a young woman's mind to a generalized romance. Even the writing loses its crispness, takes on a storybook breathiness: "Simon - Simon brown and gold and running . . . he was the center of Delphine's existence, and she of his . . . Time, the rhythmical succession of day and night, became irrelevant . . . Accepting and trusting one another fully, they attached no meanings - there was only the moment."
Delphine's development, in the end, comes not as a consequence of her problems or experience, or even of the sequence of events in her life, but through her accidental meeting with a congenial boy. It is magic, the essence of a book like "Mykonos." The setting, deliberately free to break from normal routine. The story might pay homage to reality by dealing with psychological questions or updating mores and language, but it is basically politics, or social issues, or new trends in literature.
Perhaps this is not a weakness, since books serve many functions and readers. There was a time when I delighted to escape in sensuous prose and expedient solutions rather than face the slow, incomplete resolutions life itself provides. If the writing is sound, the genre respectable, isn't that enough? Yet reading "Mykonos," something is missing - not because it is a romance, but because it might be more than one. It traces a pattern of psychological growth, but fails to integrate this with the romantic part of the book. It offers potential insight into human problems, suggests real loss and pain and fear. It is as if these elements were only waiting to come together, to mature; to flower, if briefly, so that the reader might learn something, might never again be the same.