At 50, two decades of stable family life fell apart. In this extract from her memoir, the novelist recalls finding strength in the chaos – and a new voice
As Orson Welles told us, if we want a happy ending, it depends on where we stop the story. One January night I was eating coconut rice and fish in a bar on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. A tanned, tattooed American man sat at the table next to me. He was in his late 40s, big muscled arms, his silver hair pinned into a bun. He was talking to a young English woman, perhaps 19 years old, who had been sitting on her own reading a book, but after some ambivalence had taken up his invitation to join him. At first he did all the talking. After a while she interrupted him.
Her conversation was interesting, intense and strange. She was telling him about scuba diving in Mexico, how she had been underwater for 20 minutes and then surfaced to find there was a storm. The sea had become a whirlpool and she had been anxious about making it back to the boat. Although her story was about surfacing from a dive to discover the weather had changed, it was also about some sort of undisclosed hurt. She gave him a few clues about that (there was someone on the boat who she thought should have come to save her) and then she glanced at him to check if he knew that she was talking about the storm in a disguised way.