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toldbyanidiot

I have previously read two Rose Macaulay novels; The World my Wilderness and Crewe Train, firmly establishing Rose Macaulay as a writer I had to read more of. I spent a tiring, slow reading week with this book and it was wonderful company. Told by an Idiot is an earlier novel than either of those other two, and I think a rather more serious one. Rose Macaulay’s list of works on Wikipedia is considerable, though only a few are in print, so I have just purchased two more Macaulay novels from ebay. In this novel Macaulay charts the ever changing social, political and religious fortunes of England from the 1870s to the 1920s through the eyes of one family.

As the novel opens, Mama and Papa Garden live in their comfortable London home with their six children, the eldest Vicky is already twenty-three – the youngest Una a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl.

“One evening, shortly before Christmas, in the days when our forefathers, being young, possessed the earth, – in brief, in the year 1879, – Mrs Garden came briskly into the drawing-room from Mr Garden’s study and said in her crisp, even voice to her six children, “Well, my dears, I have to tell you something. Poor Papa has lost his faith again.””

Mr Garden changes religion like people of today change their mobile phones, from Anglicanism to Ethicism, to Catholicism to Christian Science – and everything in between. The family are well used to it – and his long suffering, ever supportive wife embraces whatever the latest thing is – no matter what her own private thoughts.

It is their children however who are at the centre of this novel, and in 1879 and the 1880s they are what is seen as the modern generation. Conventional Vicky’s younger sisters Stanley and Rome (here again Macaulay’s unusual androgynous names for women) and their brother Maurice at Cambridge are the epitome of late Victorian modernity. Stanley is passionate for a social cause, Rome is charming, urbane and cynical, she tries not to engage too fully with anything, taking life as it comes, and finding so much of life highly amusing.

“Life was to her at this time more than ever a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. She went on her way as usual, reading, seeing pictures, hearing music, meeting people, talking, smoking, bicycling, leading the life led by intelligent dilettanti in the small, cultivated nucleus of a great city.”

Maurice, with his first from Cambridge is an angry young man, who writes for a newspaper. Una grows up and marries a farmer, delighting too much in country life to do anything else, and Irving becomes a business man with some conscience and the ability to make money.

Vicky becomes a typical late Victorian matron, marries Charles, they argue a little from time to time, but Vicky loves him, and children inevitably arrive. Stanley marries and has children too, but her marriage is less successful, as is Maurice’s who marries a shallow, silly woman without really knowing her. Rome finds her one true love, though he is married to someone else.

Throughout the years, as various politicians come and go, as new technologies and new fads come along, and wars are fought, the older generation continue to be confounded and outraged by the younger generation. Though sometimes, the modern generation is even too outrageous for one another. Stanley’s husband is horrified and repulsed when she takes to wearing ‘bloomers’ to ride around London on a Bicycle.

“’It’s better to be elegant, dirty and dangerous than frumpish, clean and safe. That’s an epigram. The fact is women ought never to indulge in activities, either of the body or the mind; it’s not their rôle. They can’t do it gracefully.”

No wonder, perhaps that in middle age Stanley becomes a suffragist.

The third generation of Gardens grow up in a world where the Boer war is talked about by everyone – including children. Young Imogen is mortified when a child at school says her Uncle Maurice is pro Boer – and Imogen tries to explain that she isn’t pro -Boer herself but she can see their point. Imogen is a wonderful character, if Rome reflects one part of Macaulay’s own character, then her niece Imogen reflects the other part. Imogen; Vicky’s daughter, wants nothing more than to be a bright blue-eyed boy and join the navy. Her head is filled with stories in which she casts herself as Denis, a brown-skinned, blue-eyed young naval man. Imogen longs for adventure, to break away from the role cast for her by society. There is a wonderful scene where Imogen and her brother spend a Sunday morning riding around the underground for a penny. Those readers who love Imogen as much as I did will cheer for her as the novel draws to a conclusion.

Macaulay writes movingly about the realities of the First World War; those modern Victorians are in their sixties as the novel comes to an end – and England in some ways has changed and yet we see that in all the ways that matter people don’t change all that much. The older generation will always shake their heads at the younger generation, no matter what generation that is.

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mde

Today has been declared Elizabeth von Arnim day by Jane at Beyond Eden Rock in her year long celebration of underappreciated lady authors. I have read quite a number of von Arnim novels, I love her voice so much. One of her most famous books of course is Elizabeth and her German Garden, which was published anonymously in 1898. EvA went on to write two more ‘Elizabeth’ books – The Solitary Summer and The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen (1904). I don’t suppose it matters which order one reads these books, and in fact I read The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen a couple of years ago.

In many ways there is very little to say about The Solitary Summer – so you may be glad to hear that this post is likely to be fairly short.

“What a blessing it is to love books. Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden.”

The Solitary Summer was a delightful little read, in the company of Elizabeth, The Man of Wrath, the April, May and June babies we spend the summer in the German countryside. Here, Elizabeth assures her doubting husband that she wants nothing more than to spend a summer alone – alone meaning no visitors, her husband and children will have to be present. Yet, Elizabeth longs to be free from the constant whirl of polite society.

“May 2nd. Last night after dinner, when we were in the garden, I said, “I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life. I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow. Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick. I shall spend the months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests. I shall watch the things that happen in my garden, and see where I have made mistakes.”

However, Elizabeth’s alone – is not quite my alone – and neither is it quite what she had envisaged. Aside from The Man of Wrath and the April, May and June babies, there is the governess, the gardener and a new parson to be appointed to her husband’s living. Toward the end of the summer – much to poor Elizabeth’s exasperation, there is a soldier, a lieutenant staying in her house – a man she exhausts herself just trying to avoid.

Elizabeth glories in her garden, realising she has made mistakes in the past – she takes her husband’s advice and employs a new gardener – and soon she is glorying in her larkspurs and roses. She sneaks out of the house early before anyone is awake, and glories in her garden as it wakes.

“Here was the world wide-awake and yet only for me, all the fresh pure air only for me, all the fragrance breathed only by me, not a living soul hearing the nightingale but me, the sun in a few moments coming up to warm only me.”

the solitart summer

When the children don’t need occupying, or even when they do, there are forest walks to be enjoyed and mud banks to be scrambled down. When it is raining, Elizabeth has her books, her wants are really very simple, and very restful. Her joy in the simple things is really quite infectious. Unfortunately, my garden doesn’t inspire quite the same feelings in me and would take precisely 37 seconds to walk around.

In the company of Elizabeth, we meet the poor women of the village who are too afraid of cold/dirt to let their babies go out of doors. This allows us a (not entirely comfortable) glimpse of the different levels of German society. However, Elizabeth von Arnim is a wonderful observer of people, as always, she is warm, witty and wise – and I continue to love her writing very much.

“If one believed in angels one would feel that they must love us best when we are asleep and cannot hurt each other; and what a mercy it is that once in every twenty-four hours we are too utterly weary to go on being unkind.”

We realise in time, that Elizabeth does indeed love her Man of Wrath, he is even more affectionately portrayed in this book than in German Garden. Elizabeth seems happiest in her garden with her babies under the summer sunshine, and soldiers, parsons, husbands and babies apart – she did manage to get a more or less solitary summer.

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cof

I love Barbara Comyns writing, her way of looking at the world, is deliciously eccentric. My favourite to date is probably The Juniper Tree – a book I couldn’t stop thinking about. When reading Comyns – one can’t help but wonder where her rather skewed view of the world came from. Sisters by a River, Barbara Comyns’ debut novel gives us something of an idea. Although described as a novel, Sister by a River has the taint of memoir about it as Comyns used her first novel to tell the story of her childhood.

It is a story of chaos, genteel poverty, sibling squabbles, unsuitable governesses and antics on the river running past the family home. Her childhood was obviously quite extraordinary. It’s hard to know if Comyns viewed any part of it as happy – but it quite clearly informed her writing and ignited her imagination.

“When we were very young people would sometimes forbid us to play on the path that ran by the river, but it didn’t make any difference, we always did. We used to fall in but were never completely drowned, the village children often were though. There was a family called Drinkwater and no less than five of them were drowned, they were a very poor family, the mother was very handsome and fierce looking, with a figure rather like a withie, which was quite suitable because she stripped the withies on the river bank as her living, most of the village women did and after they were stripped they were made into baskets and cradels.”

(NB spelling errors in quotes entirely deliberate)

The novel is narrated by young Barbara – we see the world through her eyes, and in her words and with her own sometimes eccentric spelling. This narration is odd at times, it is much more like that of an adult recalling childhood than a child themselves.

Barbara is one of six sisters – though one doesn’t appear in the story, as she wouldn’t like it. Told in a series of usually short chapters and vignettes, with titles like – Aunts Arriving, God in the Billiard Room, It wasn’t Nice in the Dressing Room and Mice and Owls, Comyns recreates a childhood full of unreliable adults and the animals that fall foul of them. It is a story that is colourful and strange, told with humour and some affection.

“Mammy had always looked and been rather vague, she had a kind of gypsofilia mind, all little bits and pieces held together by whisps, now she grew vaguer still and talked with a high floating voice, leaving her sentences half finished or with a wave of her hand she would add an ‘and so forth’ which was a favourite expression.”

However, Comyns’ light, bright, breezy tone is very deceptive, behind the humour there is a lot that is really rather dark. Comyns wraps that darkness in witty anecdotes but that is her way of talking about times which must have been frequently alarming, unpredictable and sometimes violent, which she is oddly matter of fact about, it’s her way of highlighting an upbringing that must have at times taken its toll.

Barbara’s parents were generally responsible for the violence – towards one another or unwanted animals, they are neglectful and inconsistent allowing the children to run pretty wild. There are plenty of disturbing events, her father threatens to shoot himself, a local child drowns in the river. Barbara’s mother, who went deaf following the birth of her sixth daughter, is vague, their father frequently bad tempered and beset by money worries.

“One evening we elder ones returned rather late after a visit to the cinema, we were all kind of in a coma, degesting the film we had just seen, but we were soon rudely awakened, there was an awful uproar, Mammy was screaming and crying in the morning-room, and Daddy bellowing away like a bull, as we came into the room he hurried out without speaking to us, he locked himself in the billiard-room, always his stronghold during rows. Mammy was in the most frightful state, it was difficult to make out what had happened, she seemed almost crazy, and I felt all sick.”

sistersby a riverThe household reminded me of the Mitfords, though maybe the Mitfords were less dysfunctional. There are unattractive aunts, a messy grandmother whose bedroom smelt of vinegar. None of the adults seem to have much going for them. The elder sister Mary bullies the other sisters badly and Barbara grows up closest to her sister Beatrix. Childhood ends as it must, crashing to a sudden halt when tragedy strikes.

Comyns storytelling is much more than her quirky, humorous anecdotes might have us believe. This is a quick engaging read, not my favourite Comyns but one I couldn’t help thinking a lot about. What, strange and frightening days of childhood lie behind this novel?

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open the door

My first book for August and the Virago group’s All Virago all August was Open the Door! By Catherine Carswell. It accompanied me on a short trip to Belgium – which was lovely – but during which I didn’t get a huge amount of reading time. Another thing about travelling – and why do I always forget this – but the ‘mood’ lighting in hotels is not good for readers. I really should always take my kindle which at least has its own back light.

Anyway, on with the book – which I thoroughly enjoyed – the kind of novel I think of being ‘a proper Virgo book.’

The author of Open the Door! published only one other novel, like the heroine of this novel she was born in Glasgow. This her first novel is apparently very autobiographical. In the company of Joanna Bannerman – who we follow from childhood to when she is thirty years old – we visit, Edinburgh, London and Italy. Joanna is a brilliantly drawn character, I have seen a couple of reviews of this book, saying she was an unsympathetic character, I didn’t think so. Joanna is flawed – she makes some selfish decisions, but she is warm – craves love and is capable of great kindness. Aren’t we all capable of small acts of selfishness? We all hide from the world our little vanities and caprices, but they make us human, and Catherine Carswell shows us the truth of this in her character of Joanna Bannerman particularly, but in all her characters.

“She was poised and keen, a hawk in mid-air, a speck of perfect bliss upheld in perfection of readiness for the predatory swoop”

As the novel opens it is 1896, Joanna her older sister Georgie, and younger brothers Linnet and Sholto are accompanying their mother Juley on a dreaded visit to their Edinburgh relatives. Juley is a little vague and a little disorganised, even then, she relies on her children to help her organise themselves. As the years pass she will come to lean on her children more and more, while also wanting to retain some control of the household affairs. Juley is another wonderfully drawn, complex character.

This Edinburgh visit is especially memorable, for it is here that the family first learn that the children’s father has died suddenly of pneumonia. The Bannerman children have been brought up within a religious evangelical environment, and the children’s mother Juley – is a particularly strident believer – though she changes churches regularly. There is one last family holiday at their holiday cottage in Duntarvie a place of rural perfection and happiness for Joanna that she is destined to carry with her through life.

As she grows older, the artistic Joanna begins to pull against the conventionalities of this evangelical Glasgow life. She seeks life with a great energy and passion – longs to free herself of the restrictions of her background. Her studies at the School of Art open new horizons for Joanna – she is ready to grab at life and eager for love. She enters into a sudden failed engagement, and then shortly afterwards marries a man she barely knows, an Italian, Mario. She leaves everything she knows and travels to Italy, with her new husband, experiencing sex for the first time, and is less than impressed.

‘This droll device, this astonishing, grotesque experience was what the poets had sung of since the beginning’.

Mario seeks to control her, imprisoning her within the walls of his home, with his own personal wardress watching Joanna – Maddalena his devoted sister.
Thankfully, it isn’t long before Joanna is free again, and back in Glasgow, living again with her mother and siblings. Her dream though is to go to London. She surrounds herself with artistic, interesting friends and lovers including Phemie, Lawrence and the much older, married Louis Pender.

“Ah, how remorselessly the stream swept away all the debris of winter it could reach! As Joanna watched it in fascination she was one with it, and she rejoiced. Her life – was it not as that flood? Was it not muddy, littered, unlike the life she have imagined or chosen? But it was a life. It moved.”

mdeJoanna finds employment and happiness in London, living in two small rooms in the home of a family whose disabled children she becomes particularly fond of. Holidays are spent in Scotland with the family, but in London there is always Louis Pender – her married lover. Louis will never leave his wife, they will always be subject to the little lies and intrigues of an affair – and in time these begin to tell on both of them. Will Joanna ever find the loving fulfilment she craves?

Open the Door! Is the story of a young woman’s awakening, her search for love, independence and happiness is brilliantly and compellingly told. Joanna is both trapped and in time released by her large capacity for love.

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cof

I am fully prepared to admit it was this gorgeous new 40th anniversary edition of Heartburn that made me buy a book I had shamefully overlooked for years. I am a sucker for a pretty edition.

Nora Ephron is a name you can’t help but be familiar with, even if you haven’t read any of her books. An academy award nominated screen writer for films such as When Harry met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, though one of my personal favourites she wrote was Silkwood. Ephron first made her name as a journalist. Her collections of essays were bestsellers in the 1970s, and then in 1983 came Heartburn, the novel she wrote based largely on her second marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein (you know, the Watergate guy).

This is a novel however, not an autobiography, still it is clear that there are plenty of parallels with Ephron’s own life.

“Sometimes I believe that love dies but hope springs eternal. Sometimes I believe that hope dies but love springs eternal. Sometimes I believe that sex plus guilt equals love, and sometimes I believe that sex plus guilt equals good sex. Sometimes I believe that love is as natural as the tides, and sometimes I believe that love is an act of will. Sometimes I believe that some people are better at love than others, and sometimes I believe that everyone is faking it. Sometimes I believe that love is essential, and sometimes I believe that only reason love is essential is that otherwise you spend all your time looking for it.”

Our narrator is Rachel; a cookery writer, who seven months in to her second pregnancy (she already has a young son Sam) discovers her second husband; Mark, has been having an affair. Naturally Rachel is devastated – but Ephron allows Rachel a surprisingly humorous tone, and she is very, very funny. Behind these laughs – as so often is the case with humour – is something very serious, the reality of betrayal, the ending of a marriage, being a mother, and just coping with all that stuff that goes with it. Here there is heartbreak, but it is disguised, wreathed in humour and Ephron’s observations are every bit as brittle as you might expect them to be.

When she first discovers that her husband is having an affair with Thelma Rice, a woman Rachel describes as having: “a neck as long as an arm and a nose as long as a thumb”. Rachel leaves her home in Washington, for her father’s New York apartment – her father having been ‘carted off to the loony bin’ – Ephron’s words not mine!

“I look out the window and I see the lights and the skyline and the people on the street rushing around looking for action, love, and the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie, and my heart does a little dance.”

In New York, Rachel intends to go back to her therapy group – which she hasn’t needed during the period since her first marriage ended, a period in which is she was happy and settled with Mark.

In New York, Rachel is involved in a jewel robbery, when her group are held up by gunpoint, and the ring Mark bought her when Sam was born is stolen. Returning to her father’s apartment, she finds Mark waiting for her, with promises to not to see Thelma again. Can she believe him? Can she forgive his betrayal and stay married, as if Thelma Rice never happened?

““Vera said: “Why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?”
So I told her why.
Because if I tell the story, I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn’t hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it.”

heartburnBack in Washington, Rachel keeps a suspicious eye on her husband, while juggling motherhood, food writing and keeping up with the local gossip – one recurring topic being who Thelma Rice is sleeping with. Rachel adds her own little titbit to the local grapevine – telling everyone that Thelma has an infection! Ephron hilariously depicts the life of an upper middle-class couple – both Mark and Rachel have their issues – their friends are similarly self-absorbed.

Light as a souffle, bright and breezy Heartburn is more serious than it pretends. Nora Ephron understood the pain of an affair, and there are many poignant moments as Rachel struggles with the reality of her marriage and whether she should stay in it or leave for good. Deliciously sharp, Ephron combines food, love, loss and marriage in a novel that is touchingly honest.

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cofWhen Molly Keane wrote her final novel; Loving and Giving, she was well into her eighties. It had been over sixty years since her first novel was published under her pseudonym of M J Farrell.

In her introduction to this modern vmc edition (sorry virago, but I don’t like the cover at all) Michelle Roberts says Loving and Giving is her best novel. Other readers may argue that, Good Behaviour (another later novel) could also be in the running for that accolade. As Roberts says, the novel shows Keane’s maturity, describing it as ‘less superficial, less obviously funny than most of her previous fiction.’

Loving and Giving is a superb novel, Keane’s writing is as good as ever, she recreates a recognisable time and place without sentimentality. I always feel her characters could have been – and perhaps were, taken from life.

The novel opens in 1914, Nicandra is eight years old, life is good at the family’s grand Irish home; Deer Forest. Maman is beautiful, Dada a small, silent man is only really happy around his stables, horses and dogs. Aunt Tossie – Maman’s widowed sister is big bosomed and kind, and looks, she knows, quite wonderful in her weeds. This is a place where everyone has his or her place, above stairs the family live comfortably, below stairs or in the stables, the maids, butler, grooms and steward have a different kind of life. Nicandra runs between the stables, and the house with a freedom few modern children ever experience.

“Then, as light follows darkness, she saw Maman coming down the drive. She wore her lilac coat and skirt, braided with deeper lilac; the skirt, widened at the hem and floated out over thin boots, the tidy laces criss-crossing on shadowy ankles – there was something playful in Maman’s way of walking, something jaunty that swayed her hips, and made her straw hat tilt up on her frizzled curls…From the shrubbery side of the avenue fresh wet heads of lilac bowed over her, heavy in their prime flowering. She lifted her arm to catch at a branch and, as she held it down, rainwater fell on her face – her eyes were shut; it was as if she was drinking the scent of lilac.”

Nicandra simply worships her mother, enjoying the intoxicating scent of her hand cream, taking pleasure in small everyday acts she knows will please her mother. Every morning Nicandra runs into her mother’s bedroom when the morning tea is delivered. Life seems very nearly perfect, until Maman does something too terrible to be discussed, and thereafter, disappears from Nicandra’s life.

loving and givingWhen love is suddenly ripped away, it leaves a hollowness so deep, perhaps it can never be filled. Nicandra takes the confusion and distress of her mother’s disappearance, out on Silly Billy – the son of the lodge keeper – who has some kind of unspecified learning difficulties. It is the one act of spite of her young life – a moment she forgets all about. As she grows up into a lovely young woman she wraps those around her in love and kindness.

As a young woman starting out in society, Nicandra is looking around for what love could possibly be, what it might mean for her. The heady excitement of a hunt ball, her best friend; beautiful heiress Lal helping her dress, the two young ladies are accompanied by Nicandra’s faithful old friend Robert and his friend Andrew. Here finally, is love.

“Before she undressed, Nicandra pulled back the window curtains, cold as glass in her hands, and stood between them to look out at the changed world. Even the moon was not the same. It hung lower in the sky, nearer, more golden, since now she loved and was loved.”

Nicandra’s heart is ripe for hurt and betrayal, Andrew is happiest when at the races, he sometimes seems to have more in common with their mutual friend Lal.

Meanwhile at Deer Forest, not too far from where Nicandra lives with her husband, Dada and Aunt Tossie have fallen into a comfortable, companionship. The two old friends rub along pretty well, understanding one another’s little ways. Around the time of the Second World War, Deer Forest is falling into disrepair there isn’t the money there once was, and the family home may need to be sold. In preparation, Aunt Tossie moves into a caravan in the grounds with her whisky hidden in the ‘po’ cupboard and her stuffed parrot, attended to faithfully and a little jealously by Silly Billy – now called William.

I can’t say too much more about this novel and certainly not about the ending, but suffice to say, there is the most spectacular and unexpected conclusion to this novel. My jaw dropped.

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mde

Joanna Godden is such a wonderful novel, a VMC title which demonstrates perfectly why the VMC imprint has been so important. In this novel, Sheila Kaye-Smith gives voice to an extraordinary woman, who pulls valiantly against the conventions of her community. Joanna Godden is a very real woman, in her the author has created a character who is strong, flawed, loving and firmly wedded to the Sussex marshes where she lives.

As the novel opens it is 1897, it is the day of Joanna Godden’s father’s funeral. Joanna is twenty-three, her younger sister Ellen; just ten. Everybody in the nearby village or on the neighbouring farms think they know exactly what Joanna will be do now. Her father’s farm of Little Ansdore has been left to Joanna entirely – and someone will need to run it. It seems obvious to everyone that Joanna will marry, she’s a handsome young woman, and her father’s farm makes her a good catch. As, Joanna’s good friend Arthur Alce has been trying (and failing) to court her for years it seems the perfect solution. However, Joanna has other ideas, she has no immediate plans to marry – and sadly for Arthur, Joanna makes it clear she won’t marry him, and more importantly she intends to run her father’s farm herself, she is full of ideas, passionate about the land. Joanna defies convention and raises more than a few eyebrows – and not all her ideas are successful.

“She forgot her distrust of the night air in all her misery of throbbing head and heart, and flung back the casement, so that the soft marsh wind came in, with rain upon it, and her tears were mingled with the tears of night. ‘Oh God!’ she moaned to herself – ‘why didn’t you make me a man?””

 

She works hard to make the farm a success – increasing its worth – and putting money in the bank. She invites plenty of comment with her smart, eye-catching costumes and newly painted cart. The men gather in the nearby hostelry and discuss all the latest news from Little Ansdore – they tell their wives when they get home – but Joanna rather thrives on the attention and quite enjoys thinking about everyone discussing her.

As well as running her farm, Joanna must also raise her sister Ellen. She’s not above clipping her round the ear, indulging in a sisterly screaming match or hauling the shrieking ten-year old under her arm and carting her off in front of a startled tea guests. Though as Ellen begins to grow, Joanna wants more for her, to make a lady of her, and now that she has the money – she decides to send Ellen away to school. The Ellen who returns to Joanna during the holidays is a changed girl – and in time the differences between Joanna and her little sister begin to tell.

In matters of the heart Joanna judges poorly sometimes, her heart very much ruling her head. When she first takes over the farm, she employs a ‘looker’ the man she employs is physically the kind of man she finds attractive. It is unthinkable that a farm owner would pursue a relationship with her ‘looker’ and Joanna doesn’t really intend to – but as Socknersh is bad at his job, Joanna’s preference is noted and talked about. Joanna nearly makes a fool of herself.

“Over the eastern rim of the Marsh the moon had risen, a red, lightless disk, while the sun, red and lightless too, hung in the west above Rye Hill. The sun and the moon looked at each other across the marsh, and midway between them, in the spell of their flushed, haunted glow, stood Socknersh, big and stooping, like some lonely beast of the earth and night…. A strange fear touched Joanna – she tottered, and his arm came out to save her…”

Joanna will fall in love for real, her enormous appetite for life making her throw herself whole heartedly into every life experience. But with everything she does, Joanna’s traditionalism, religion and love of the land drives her forward.

joannagoddenThe years pass, Ellen makes some terrible choices that really test Joanna. Joanna knows sadness, loss and great achievement – she never stops being a favourite topic of local conversation. There comes a day when Joanna, older, but possibly no wiser – acts against her own character, she remains unconventional making decisions for herself that are right for her – no matter what anyone else thinks.

Joanna Godden was one of those books I was sad to finish – a strong sense of place and one of the most heroic country heroines I have ever read about. This was the first novel I have read by Sheila Kaye-Smith so I am looking to reading Susan Spray – by the same author that I have tbr.

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