Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Scent of Water (Guest post)

Our first guest blogger for Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week is Jane-alias-Fleur from the marvelous blog Fleur in Her World, which was one of my inspirations to do this week. Her story of how she started reading Elizabeth Goudge is the perfect way to start us off.

I remember my mother guiding me when I made the transition from junior to senior member of the library. I remember four authors she steered me towards: Agatha Christie, Daphne Du Maurier, Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Goudge.

The first two I read then, loved then and still love now. The third I didn’t read until more recently, when her books were reissued, and I found that I loved her too.

That just left Elizabeth Goudge. She didn’t appeal to me at all back in the day, and I must confess that when she fell out of fashion and her books disappeared from the shelves I forgot all about her. I can’t remember where I found her again, but I’m sure it’s either a book blogger or a LibraryThing member I should be thanking.

The library offered a range of titles – not on the shelves but tucked away in the fiction reserve – and The Scent of Water caught my eye.

It tells the story of Mary Lambert, a middle-aged teacher, who quite unexpectedly inherited a country house from a distant cousin.

Though the two had shared a name they met only once. Mary’s father took her on a visit when she was still very young.

“An ivory coach, you see, Mary,” whispered her cousin. “It’s no bigger than a hazelnut but it’s all there, the horses and the coachmen and Queen Mab herself inside. Do you see her inside?”

Mary nodded speechlessly. She could see the fairy figure with the star in her hair, and the tiny delicate features of the child-like face. It did not occur to her that human hands could possibly have made the queen and her coach for she seemed as timeless as Cousin Mary herself. They had always lived her in this world inside the picture and they always would.”

Mary saw her inheritance as a sign that she should change her life. She moved to the country, and her cousin’s home became hers. She found a new way of life, a new place in the world, and she found time to think. That allowed her to come to terms with memories of her wartime romance with a naval officer who had been killed just days before they would have been married.

Her story opens out to catch the stories of her new neighbours. A contented elderly couple whose peace was disturbed by their son. An author who was coping with the loss of his sight rather better than his wife. A couple whose way of life was threatened. Children who were accustomed to having possession of the old woman’s garden and were wary of the new arrival ….

Current US edition, Hendrickson

Mary found her cousin’s diaries and she learned her story too. Why she had chosen to live alone, why she had become distant from her family and the people around her, what she had coped with, and how she had coped.

This is a quiet story and it is quite beautifully written.  Everything is so well drawn, the people, the places, the situations, everything is utterly real.  And it is a story enriched by lovely descriptions, and by the deepest emotional and spiritual understanding. I’d recommend slow reading, so that you can appreciate the wisdom that this book holds.

I understand now why my mother loves Elizabeth Goudge, and why she guided me to her books. She studied English at university and she appreciated fine writing; she’s ‘a people person’ and she’s always interested in meeting people, in getting to know them, in hearing their news; she shares her faith, and her values.

My mother is physically and mentally frail now, and she lacks the concentration and the short term memory that we need to read and enjoy novels. But she likes to hear about the books I’m reading, she remembers books that she particularly liked, and she was delighted to hear that I had started to read Elizabeth Goudge’s books.

Thank you so much, Jane, for this lovely story! Readers, do you have a memory of your first book by Elizabeth Goudge, or any other favorite author? Please let us know in the comments. You can also link up your own posts here.

6 thoughts on “Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Scent of Water (Guest post)

  1. Lovely review thank you! The Scent of Water is my favourite Elizabeth Goudge and I concur: read it slowly. And it so bears re reading every so often to revisit that quiet insight.


  2. What a beautiful review and tribute to Goudge's writing! I read everything of Goudge's I could find in my late teens and early twenties, and still do. The Scent of Water was one that I vowed to return to when I was older, for though I liked it, I didn't feel as connected as I did to, say, Gentian Hill or Pilgrim's Inn. I sensed that I needed more experience, more maturity, to really appreciate it. Now I am doubly looking forward to rereading it!


  3. What a beautiful review and post! The Scent of Water sounds just like the kind of book I would appreciate and have just ordered it. I love the premise of a woman unexpectedly inheriting a country house. Thank you for sharing this!


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