On Georgia’s Cosmopolitan Coast, An Author Explores Europe’s Treasures, Local Amenities

The Harbor Sound

Brunswick, GA


The group sat around a sidewalk table in perfect weather, the author, her graduate studies professor and his wife, another friend, and the author's publicist. The night scene could have been in Italy: the chef came out to check on the crab bisque, the waiter spooned sherry over it. All around, lighted up in the dark, beyond thick crepe myrtle trees dividing the avenue, pastel-colored buildings rose just two stories, as they had in 1910. Shops in a coastal village in Capri would be no taller.  But this was October on the corner of Newcastle and Gloucester Street in modern day Brunswick. The restaurant was Cargo Portside, the author was Corinne Van Houten, the occasion was her presentation at Brunswick's ample new library. Mrs. Van Houten spoke and showed slides on art and literature, introducing her book, aptly titled, A Feast of Small Surprises.


This is a novel, but people have long since read fiction as truer than fact. Lucky Coastal Georgia residents can imagine themselves dining outdoors in Italy, as the book's characters often are.  In this feast of small surprises, the characters entangle their personal foibles, their ex-married statuses, and their intellectual ambitions, with the splendor and thrill of the old Grand Tour, once every educated person's dutiful delight.  In the world's most-toured European countries, among the art world's richest treasures, a mystery appears early on, one that does not involve a dead body.  An original Caravaggio painting is discovered in a church basement in Messina. Is it real, or a fake? Violence does ensue, but let it wait.


This book is not about brevity, but about richness. Someone has written that an intellectual is a person who has discovered there is something more interesting in the world than sex. The main character, Anne, and her friends, Edward and Maya, however, never let their considerable braininess interfere with their humanity--or exclude sex.   Perhaps because author Van Houten has a PhD and moral support from Emory University's department of Liberal Arts, including Women's Studies and Art History, the observer—not just the observed—in these various erotic encounters is often female. One never forgets that the author is a woman, but because of her ability to absorb and render—virtually EVERYTHING—her book is never boring or trivial. It's the kind of book that makes you wish you took it on vacation, didn't have to put it down.  On the other hand, its chapter divisions, rich quotations about art and love, make dipping in and out of its pages also rewarding.  Physical details, exactly what wine and delicacies can be ordered on a train in Italy, outdoors in Paris, and what is said between friends and lovers before which artifact—all these put you into the flavor and feel of this journey.


Lucky Corinne Van Houten, to have such a well-funded brain to take on her European journey. Yet, in love and friendship, her characters are no luckier than other mortals—except for the richness with which they examine their lives. Her friend Maya spends a lonely Parisian afternoon staring at contemporary sculpture—black skeletons and blue bowler hats and hearts, twirling in the Stravinski fountain. Van Houten enlightened her audience at the library with a power-point slide of this work, one to chill any afternoon. In short, the book is almost frighteningly rich with ideas, challenges, and yet, cherished human experience.  In this Power Point world, where images can be extracted and displayed in seconds on a screen, one must now beg and steal time to READ an experience. Even one enlivened by art and intellect, incarnated into food, coffee, aperitifs, travel, and erotic embraces.


So one goes around the corner to the outdoor cafe, in a throng of others, and looks out at the illuminated night in Brunswick. Liberal Arts is almost old-fashioned now, though as much cherished as a Caravaggio, while large libraries are new, and rows of computers for privacy-protected use dominate the reading room. Even so, Prince William, young and privileged--wants to major in Art History.  Into the old and respected, the long-used, one folds the high-tech, hoping not to be robbed of  life itself by the promise of "more time".  What time one has can be well spent reading rich books, like this Feast of Small Surprises, or listening to them on tapes, from Brunswick's constantly up-building regional library.


Charlotte Harrell is an artist and writer, and longtime St. Simons Island resident, and Glynn County community activist for the arts. She is currently teaching art and writing for publication while editing her memoir/novel, Blue Heaven.

The links below will bring you to Amazon to view and purchase the products.

A Feast of Small Surprises

$9.64 Kindle Edition

Wine Tour CD

(Includes $40 tasting coupons)



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© Corinne Van Houten 2013, All Rights Reserved

Carneros Wine Tour | Wine Tour CD | Napa Wine Tour | Sonoma Wine Tour | Contemporary Art Book |

Mystery Novel | Art Novel | Novel Based in Italy | A Feast of Small Surprises | Corinne Van Houten Author | Freelance Writer