For a moment we are still concerned with structures, with the setting of the stage. I have always been interested in beginnings. We all scrutinise our childhoods, go about the interesting business of apportioning blame. I am addicted to arrivals, to those innocent dawn moments from which history accelerates. I like to contemplate their unknowing inhabitants, busy with prosaic matters of hunger, thirst, tides, keeping the ship on course, quarrels and wet feet, their minds on anything but destiny. Those quaint figures of the Bayeux tapestry, far from quaint within their proper context, rough tough efficient fellows wrestling with ropes and sails and frenzied horses and the bawling of ill-tempered superiors. Caesar, contemplating the Sussex coast. Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, Captain Cook… all those mundane travellers preoccupied with personal gain or seized by congenital restlessness, studying compasses and dealing with the natives while they make themselves immortal.I thought this was a tremendously good book - the story of Claudia Hampton's life, her lovers, her family, her travels through the world of the twentieth century; there are many memorable scenes, particularly from the wartime section set in Egypt. The narrative style combines first-person, a bit of onmniscience, and tight-third, the last of these sometimes from other perspectives than Claudia's (occasionally recapitulating the same scene from a different point of view), creating the sense of a life story that consists of many pieces that can be observed from different perspectives and in different ways as they are assembled to make a whole. It really grabbed me. You can get it here.
This was my top unread book by a woman, and also my top unread non-sf fiction book. Next on those stacks respectively are Byzantium, by Judith Herrin, and Burr, by Gore Vidal.