Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: Island Magic (Guest post)

Readers of Charlotte’s Library know that Charlotte usually (but not exclusively) focuses on middle-grade speculative fiction, with a handy weekly round-up of blog posts in that genre, as well as thorough and thoughtful reviews. Here she takes us in a slightly different direction, with a journey from her childhood reading into her adult experience of Goudge’s very first published novel, Island Magic.

Around the time I was seven or so, my older sister was given a copy of Linnets and Valerians, by Elizabeth Goudge. Soon after, she was given The Little White Horse. I loved them both, and happily I found The Valley of Song in the library (possibly an adult helped me with this; I mostly lacked initiative in regard to finding more books by beloved authors). For the next five years, I thought these were the only Elizabeth Goudge books in the world, and I read them over and over again, full of love for the beautiful pictures they made in my mind, and loving, as well, Goudge’s ability to make child characters that thought and felt like I might have (had I been in similar circumstances, which I wasn’t).

Then when I was 12, my mother blew my mind.  She took me upstairs to the grown up book section of the library, and there were TWO WHOLE SHELVES of Goudge books. I remember it vividly; I felt dizzy and overwhelmed and kind of cross she hadn’t shown me sooner. And I remember not knowing which to pick up first….

I went home with Island Magic, thinking, based on the title, that it might have fantasy elements; it also offered characters who were children. I was kind of disappointed with it though, because it really wasn’t a children’s book, and I was very much still a child. I only re-read it two or three more times in the next few years, and until this week I hadn’t read it in several decades.  So I decided to revisit it, to see if now that I really am grown-up it would read differently…

Island Magic is the story of a family who live in a beautiful old farmhouse on one of the more French of the Channel Islands in the 19th century. There are four girls and one boy, a mother who is beautiful and who lives more beautifully than me despite her hard labor, and a father better suited to writing than farming. When a strange man is shipwrecked on the island, the family take him in — and he both saves the family from financial ruin and threatens all they have (in part because he and the mother have a passionate spark thing going on).

My child self was put off by this bit of adult content, even though the one open acknowledgement of illicit passion passes quickly. This book was also, as far as can remember, my first introduction to a fictional prostitute, even though I bet I didn’t pick up on it back then. I think what really bothered me was that I wanted Goudge books to be about children, not about adults having difficulties.

The beautiful island of Guernsey

On the plus side, Island Magic has many of the Goudgian elements I love — the vivid descriptions of beautiful things, the striving after beauty and goodness, both of which are to be found in creativity and self-knowledge as well as in nature and old buildings, and the recognition that there are many paths to living a good, true, beautiful life. Beauty is worth a lot to Goudge and her characters, and even though I can’t get my house up to Goudgian levels of interior decorating beauty. There’s also a very Goudgian appreciation for the introspective mind engaged in thought about things more interesting than household tasks, and I found, and still find, this reassuring.

But on the downside, this is early Goudge, and there was just too much Beauty — the descriptions were too much, too long, and too frequent — and every main character was just too special. This put me off as an adult.

That being said, many aspects of Island Magic did end up sticking with me in a positive, encouraging way (it was my first introduction to Keats, for instance), and as an adult I did enjoy the re-reading of it lots, but it’s not one I’d recommend to the new reader of Goudge. I think the next one I read from the grown-up shelves was A City of Bells, which I loved to pieces….the adult romance there was not troubling!

Thank you, Charlotte, for concluding our week by telling us about your individual reading journey. The way our reading experiences change over time is always fascinating to me.

I’ll be doing a wrap-up post tomorrow, so please do link up your own posts and reviews (or include them in a comment or email). And don’t forget to enter the giveaway, which will remain open until midnight EDT tomorrow.

I’m so grateful to all who have participated in this week, and hope that it has been as magical for you has it has for me.

4 thoughts on “Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: Island Magic (Guest post)

  1. I'm reading Island Magic, so Charlotte's review was particularly interesting. I love the descriptions. I found that because there wasn't much plot to the story, it was necessary to highly develop the family and surroundings to engage the reader. Yet while Goudge masterfully explores the dichotomies that can exist between personalities, she makes each character in the story have these inner struggles, which, as Charlotte mentions, does take away a little from the story. However, I am enjoying it immensely and, as Lory tells me there are Goudge books even better than this one, I can't wait to read more of her works.


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