Robertson Davies Reading Weekend: The Manticore (Guest Post)

As an extra bonus at the close of this year’s Robertson Davies Reading Weekend, I received a very nice email from a Davies fan who was unable to post a review on his own blog because he doesn’t have one. I offered to put it up as a guest post, and he kindly agreed. So thanks to Trevor Murphy for extending our weekend celebration, and enjoy!

The Manticore: A Guest Post by Trevor Murphy

Is The Manticore required reading for fans of Robertson Davies?

The Manticore, the second novel in the Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies, was published in 1972 and won the Governor-General’s Literary Award in the English language fiction for that year.

The story plumbs the experiences and emotions of David Staunton, the son of Percy “Boy” Staunton, whose mysterious death propels much of the action in the Deptford Trilogy. Recovering from grief over his father’s death in Fifth Business (the first book in the Deptford Trilogy), David heads to Zurich for Jungian psychoanalysis. The story charts David’s insights using his first-person narration and transcripts of the therapeutic sessions.

It’s interesting Davies focuses so closely on this character for the middle novel in the Deptford Trilogy. David made only a brief appearance in Fifth Business as a successful barrister and “a drunk.” David is virtually absent from World of Wonders, the final book in the trilogy. Even in The Manticore, David’s interaction with the trilogy protagonists occupies only a portion of the story incited by a chance encounter.

Additionally, considering the book from the perspective of 2020 makes sympathy for David Staunton questionable. Should we spend a significant amount of time rooting for a protagonist born into privilege, unashamed of being wealthy himself (he earns more than CAD 600,000 a year adjusted for inflation), and is an addict?

The answer is ‘yes’ for readers who want to engage in Davies’ full exploration of the intersection of magic and the everyday. The novel successfully takes the reader into the trilogy’s central issue: the interplay of magic and the contemporary world. Unlike the books in Davies’ Cornish Trilogy, which consider the metaphysical in the context of university scholars reasonably comfortable with medieval magical thinking, The Manticore juxtaposes the otherworldly with twentieth-century psychotherapy. The exploration of magic in a world of science continues in Davies’ The Cunning Man (also reviewed as part of the 2020 Robertson Davies Reading Weekend), which considers the supernatural quality of art investigated by a medical doctor.

It’s true that The Manticore does not feature Davies’ most memorable protagonist. Additionally, in a rather shocking offense to a devoted reader of Davies, the ending of The Manticore employs a technique that was better used by Davies to conclude A Mixture of Frailties, the final novel of a separate Davies trilogy. With all that, The Manticore provides an engaging narrative and delivers the richness of detail and alternate perspectives within the world of his creation that make Davies a unique artist. The Manticore is most rewarding when considered as a part of the author’s canon than on its own merits, but it stands as a worthy component of the writer’s work.

Trevor Murphy is a reader and marketing professional who lives in LA with his wife, audiobook narrator Emily Eiden, and their children.

Brooding About the Brontes Guest Post


Today, I hope you’ll head over to Girl With Her Head in a Book, where I’ve contributed a guest post for the Brooding about the Brontes event. Here’s my intro:

When considering how the Brontes influenced the literary world, children’s books do not naturally spring to mind; we tend rather to think of the realm of Gothic novels, or feminist fiction, or the late nineteenth century novel. But when I looked at my favorite books for children and young adults, I was struck by how many of them showed a definite influence emanating from that remarkable family.

It’s fascinating to see how elements from both the fiction and the lives of the four siblings have percolated into a different genre, and been made use of in many ways by the individual authors. These are not slavish imitations or derivative works, still less retellings or spin-offs of the earlier novels, but creative and original approaches to storytelling that have been enriched by the Bronte legacy. All, in my opinion, deserve to be considered classics, and if you haven’t read them yet, I hope you will soon.

To find out what my picks were, please visit Susie’s blog! And don’t neglect to check out all the other posts for this marvelous event.

Witch Week 2015: Top Ten Stories That Take the Old to the New (Guest Post)

This post is part of Witch Week, an annual celebration of fantasy books and authors. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.

TopTenSQFor today’s post, I went to one of my favorite sources of Top Ten Tuesday lists, Susie from Girl with Her Head in a Book, to see whether she’d be up for doing one especially for Witch Week. I was so happy that she agreed to take on the challenge for her first-ever guest post! GWHHIAB’s lists are always full of surprising connections, interesting insights, and boundless enthusiasm, and this one is no exception. I hope you’ll find some old and new favorites in this list, which has something for everyone. Enjoy!


So, this is my very first ever guest post and I am a tiny bit excited. When Lory explained about Witch Week and asked me to draw up a list of stories which made use of fairy tales and other traditional lore, my brain immediately went into overdrive and this is a mere edited summary of a list that could probably have hit three figures if I had not been very careful. Many stories hinge on the same structure and there are many novels which are the clear offspring of more primeval forebears. We have been telling and retelling each other the same stories since the beginning of time; what is interesting is how the methods we use have changed over the centuries.

The Harry Potter Chronicles, JK Rowling


While many have criticised this series as a derivative British boarding school adventure (particular parallels being drawn to The Worst Witch), I would argue that they are missing the point. JK Rowling takes the core grammar of fairy-tales and makes them her own. The magical universe of witches, wizards, spells and magical creatures is harnessed in a structure of rules and regulations. The older laws of folklore are disregarded by the foolish at their peril — we see this as Umbridge decries the centaurs as ‘filthy half-breeds’ and thus is abducted by them, but more particularly when You-Know-Who’s lack of heed to the old rules brings about his downfall. Rowling’s collection The Tales of Beedle the Bard makes use of the fairy tale structure with similar adeptness — her prose may not have the fluidity of an Angela Carter, but one cannot doubt that Rowling speaks fairy-tale fluently. Image: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Cinderella – Ella Enchanted, Ella’s Big Chance

ella_cover_different  ellas chance

The Cinderella rags-to-riches story is one of the very, very oldest and but the figure of Cinderella is surprisingly fluid. Cloak-a-Rushes makes her the cast-out daughter of the King; in Mexico they call her Adelita, in Germany Ashputtel, but she is just a rose by another name. About ten to fifteen years ago, there was a trend for more assertive Cinderellas. In Ever After, Drew Barrymore played a version who read Utopia, befriended Leonardo Da Vinci and who only married the Dauphin when she was certain that he loved her. In Shirley Hughes’s Ella’s Big Chance, in the end Ella decided that she didn’t know the prince very well and that she’d rather marry Buttons whom she’d known all her life and knew would be a good match. My personal favourite is Ella Enchanted (don’t watch the film, though, it’s dire), which has a heroine who bounds onto the page, most likely tripping over her own feet. Bound by a childhood curse which has forced her to be obedient, Ella is determined to overcome it by any means necessary. More recent adaptations seem to indicate a downturn, however, with Kenneth Branagh’s recent Cinderella displaying a return to the more inert portrayals. I am not sure what this means, except perhaps that fashions change, but I know which version I would most wish to pass on to the next generation.

Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey/Dark Fairy Tales

Twilightbook  fifty shades of grey
I know. It’s awful. But for a list like this, it is impossible to ignore the rise of the Dark Fairy Tale. You can spot them a mile away — their covers are black with a single brightly-coloured object in the centre which somehow symbolises the monstrosity behind the myth. These are generally ‘low-fantasy’ books, meaning that magic is not supposed to exist, with an ingenue heroine who gets to be all startled by the goings-on. The insipid Bella Swann is a good example of this; another is Amanda Seyfried playing Red Riding Hood. Being the lead in a dark fairy tale involves being pale, wearing a lot of lip gloss, and gawping a lot in terror. Still, the original Grimm Fairy Tale version of Red Riding Hood is also pretty shocking in its implied eroticism, with the Wolf getting the child into bed — there are a lot of theories that the myth of Red Riding Hood itself is about the loss of virginity. This links in to Fifty Shades of Grey, with Christian Grey being a fairly creepy version of the Big Bad Wolf — but he is so insanely wealthy that the heroine allows herself to be swept off her feet. For all that Anastasia may repeatedly claim that she is not swayed by the expensive books, the helicopter and the designer clothes, it is obvious that E L James expects the reader to be impressed. Forget a pumpkin coach — this man can buy a fancy car. Never mind glass slippers, this guy can get you Louboutins. Forget the gentleman bringing the lady Milk Tray, Christian Grey just buys her an iPad. The obvious materialism of this is depressing, but it does represent the rising consumerist obsession of our society. We want our fairy tales with better stuff and we don’t want to have to pay for it ourselves.

Discworld, Terry Pratchett


I have mourned few authors in the way in which I mourned Terry Pratchett. I loved Discworld, this anarchic interpretation of a post-Industrial-Revolution Fairyland. Although the series followed a broad continuity, it was easy enough to dip in and out and each of the books tended to satirise and skewer something slightly different. Dwarves and trolls are locked in a sectarian-style conflict, vampires attempt to rehabilitate and overcome their addiction and over in Lancre, there is Granny Weatherwax using headology to keep things running. Pratchett always has a healthy respect for the risks of magic — the wizarding Archchancellors of the Unseen University have a high mortality rate in early volumes, with the institution’s librarian being turned into an orang-utan. In Lords and Ladies, we meet the deadly elves, but it is the way that Pratchett balances their menace with humour that shows what a skillful storyteller he truly was.  And I always remember how he explains that country folk put horseshoes over the doorway because those tended to be handy pieces of iron that they were likely to have hanging around, and somewhere deep down they remembered that iron repelled elves. There is a kind of practicality to Pratchett’s writing that brings the traditions of fairy tales down to earth — such as in The Wee Free Men, when Tiffany Aching reads that the monster that has abducted her younger brother has ‘eyes the size of soup-plates.’  Recognising that this is of little help, Tiffany goes home, gets a tape measure and finds a soup plate, and then has an actual idea of what she is dealing with. An excellent attitude to have, given that she is introduced shortly afterwards to the Nac Mac Feegle, a race of Scottish pixies thrown out of Fairyland for being Drunk and Disorderly. Throughout the series, Pratchett displays little sympathy for those of a poetic or artistic disposition — Agnes Nitt never does get to be Perdita Dream — but he does let his characters learn Useful Lessons, perhaps the greatest fable tradition of all. Image: Yenefer

The Peter Grant Adventures, Ben Aaronovitch

peter grantI still feel as though ridiculously few people have read the Peter Grant books.  Starting with Rivers of London, they move on to Moon Over Soho, then Whispers Undergound and Broken Homes. Last year saw the release of Foxglove Summer, with The Hanging Tree coming up next year. Peter Grant was a bog-standard trainee police officer when he happened to be accosted by a ghost while guarding a murder scene. With his only other career option being the Case Progression Unit (paperwork and nothing but), Peter reluctantly agrees to join the occult division of the Met, headed by Inspector Nightingale (a.k.a. Merlin/Gandalf/Dumbledore, except that something’s going on that means he’s aging in reverse, nobody is sure why but Nightingale is not complaining). The beauty of the series is how standard police jargon is applied to magical matters. Having been fully-trained in political correctness, Peter winces at the term ‘black wizard,’ preferring instead ‘ethically-challenged,’ and he is fully committed to ‘engaging with the stake-holders’ of the magical community, as well as dealing with the turf wars between Mother Thames and Father Thames (unrelated entities, hence the issue). Nightingale and Peter have the classic bleary-eyed cynicism of law enforcement, except their cases involve children abducted by the Faerie Queen, or the on-going calamity of the Faceless Man. One part I particularly enjoy is how Peter’s Sierra Leonean mother is so much prouder of her wizard-fighting son than she ever would have been when he was a mere policeman. Like Harry Potter, this book roots itself in our world, but applies twenty-first-century attitudes to ancient stories to superb effect. Image: Ben Aaronovitch

Which Witch?, Eva Ibbotson

which-witch-978144726574001I read this as a child and adored it — I also loved The Secret of Platform 13 and The Great Ghost Rescue, but this one has to be number one. Arriman’s parents looked at their baby and saw that he was different.  So his father very sensibly went to the library, looked up his symptoms and came up with a diagnosis — wizard.  And a dark one at that. So they named him Arriman and encouraged him to be the best kind of dark wizard that it was possible to be. When the time comes for Arriman to select a wife, he decides to hold an evil magic contest of the witches in his local area, who are not a particularly prepossessing group. My personal favourite is Mother Bloodworth, who is rather elderly and finds doing magic taxing, so her continued attempts to cast a spell to make herself young again have the distressing side-effect of repeatedly transforming her into a coffee table. I love the inversion of a group of women competing for a man’s hand rather than vice versa, and the supporting characters are superb.

The Borrowers and The Little Grey Men

borrowers  little grey men

One of my favourite fairy tales was that of the Elves and the Shoemaker. I loved the details about the little clothes that the Shoemaker’s wife made for the Elves — it is a very gentle use of the myth that arming any of these magical creatures with clothes will set them free, another old myth that JK Rowling makes use of. It is that urge to examine our world on a micro level that makes both Mary Norton’s Borrowers series and BB’s The Little Grey Men so much fun — and I could not choose between them. Neither series is rooted in a world that is inherently magical, indeed they are both recognisably dominated by humans. Mary Norton specifies that she had attempted to remain in the bounds of realism in her writing — even Pod’s balloon is designed to work properly. The fascination for me was always the idea of viewing life on a micro level, of tiny people who plunder dolls-houses for their chinaware, for whom mice are deadly predators and whose habitat is always under threat from those giants who are incapable of understanding them. The metaphor is heavy-handed (protect the planet!) but no less beautifully delivered.

The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly

book-of-lost-things-uk-225I almost put this one in the dark fairy tales but I feel that there is more to it than that. The Book of Lost Things embraces all that is dark and deadly about fairy tales along with a hefty helping of nastiness from the land of Men. David is an angry child, bitter at his mother’s death and father’s immediate remarriage — David is promised a kingdom by the Crooked Man if he will only give up his half brother George, or else he must find the current King Jonathan’s Book of Lost Things so he can go home. Like the musical Into the Woods and Kate Danley’s The Woodcutter, here fairyland reflects the darkness within our own imaginations, our fears given flesh and teeth. David is disgusted by how his father’s sexual appetite let him to betray David’s mother, and his revulsion for womankind is played out in the land he is taken to.  Sexuality is a frequent theme in fairytales, for all that they are supposedly designed for children. The magical realm is a place for broken things and broken people — be careful where you step, because anything could be out there in the wood.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Erin-Morgenstern-The-Night-CircusThis novel went viral a few years ago and publishers have been seeking to replicate its success ever since.  I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve seen with stickers or quotes beside them saying that they are ‘perfect for fans of The Night Circus.’  I feel a certain degree of cynicism about books being marketed on the merits of others, but I understand the urge to return to the Circus’s very particular glamour.  The circus is a fantastical realm, constructed to play out the contest between Marcus and Celia — a highly original wizarding duel. But the plot is secondary to the evocative descriptions of the luxurious delights available should the Circus des Reves ever head your way. It reminds me of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” of the rooms upon rooms of magical beauty, all of which can be only sampled sparingly. One never knows when the spell may be struck asunder, sending us back to a world which will always seem the greyer once we have glimpsed bright colour.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

​I truly believe that Neil Gaiman is the one-man Brothers Grimm for our age.  Like JK Rowling, he masters the fairy tale format with flair and fluency, but his prose is also startling in its perfection. I have come to his work only gradually and feel slightly late to the party.  What always impresses me is how he consistently brings a fresh perspective to old stories — his “The Problem of Susan” tackled the uncomfortable fate of Susan Pevensie, Anansi Boys breathed new life into the Anansi mythology, and more recently he wrote The Sleeper and the Spindle. My personal favourite remains The Ocean at the End of the Lane which in my view is as near to perfect as a novel can get. The Man is discontented and by chance finds himself in the area in which he grew up, so he looks for the pond which his childhood friend swore was an ocean. As the story unfolds, we are treated to an unearthly tale — but is it what truly happened? There are several points when the Man acknowledges that there are other interpretations. Which takes us to the reason why people first began to tell each other stories in the first place — to better understand our humanity. Gaiman understands not only the grammar of fantasy but also what motivates it — fans of the fairy tale would do well to follow him.

Once again, a great big thank you to Lory for letting me participate — I have had so much fun drawing up the list.  There were many very worthy contenders which did not make the cut but I would urge you to remember that fairy tales are worth reading well beyond the bounds of childhood — they contain so many truths about our own nature, and the differing ways we tell them tells us a lot about ourselves as well.

Girl with her Head in a Book is from the UK and tends to panic if she only has one book in her handbag. Currently living in Oxford, she’s a Northerner at heart and likes knitting, Jane Austen and Granny Smith apples. Add a cup of tea and you’ve got yourself an ideal afternoon in. Her site features listography, reviews and general book-themed tomfoolery. Visitors are always welcomed warmly.

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.

Elizabeth Goudge Reading Week: The Middle Window (Guest post)

Today, I’m happy to welcome Jenny from Shelf Love, who has been reading Elizabeth Goudge with appreciation for many years. Her thoughtful commentary is always a joy to read.

I have been a lover of Elizabeth Goudge’s novels since I encountered them in England at about the age of twelve. I have written reviews of eleven of her novels on my blog, most of them works I’ve read again and again: Linnets and Valerians, the Damerosehay trilogy, Green Dolphin Street, The White Witch, and more. She is one of my most beloved authors, someone I turn to when I want comfort, or inspiration, or refreshment; someone I turn to when I’m tired, or sick, or happy. I’ve given her books to more friends than I can count, and defended her against accusations of writing purple prose or against writing unearned happy endings.

I value so many things about Goudge’s writing. She is a lover of nature, both domestic (her gardens are some of the loveliest things about her books) and wild (oceans, mountains, and fens are some of the untamed things you’ll find when you read.) Her descriptions are fresh and real. Indoors, she’s also a lover of families. She knows how families really work — the way you can love someone deeply and also not be able to stand them another minute — and she is one of the best authors I know about for including every generation, the very old as well as the very young, as real living participants in her stories. She doesn’t leave out the beloved animals of families, either: dogs (usually dogs) and cats and donkeys and birds all have parts to play. This is, of course, really the way it is in our lives, but tell me the last book you read that was like it.

Goudge is a Christian, which comes out in most of her stories, but there are strong pagan overtones in many of her books — The White Witch, for instance — and she has an appreciation for other religions. Some of her best characters are atheists. Her books have a freshness to them, because they are serious and yet loving: yes, the world can wear you down, but there are springs of joy to refresh you even in deep pain. She writes about such themes as discipline, healing, and growth through suffering. But don’t let me make them sound like downers! She is often, also, quietly amusing, quick-witted, and very knowing about the way real people operate. Her novels interweave legend and myth and reflect her spirituality and her deep love of family and England.

To participate in this week’s post, I read a novel that is new to me, The Middle Window. It was the second novel she wrote, published in 1934. It’s the story of a young socialite, Judy Cameron, who has an emotional epiphany when she sees a painting of a Scottish glen: that is her place, and she must find it. Improbably, she does find it, and drags her unwilling parents and fiance with her to spend the summer there. The rest is a high-drama story involving, of all things, hints of reincarnation and a handsome laird who is spending his life trying to help the impoverished Highlanders.

This, unfortunately, is the first book by Elizabeth Goudge I have ever wished I hadn’t read. I disliked Judy Cameron heartily. What did she think she was doing, forcing her poor long-suffering parents and perfectly-nice fiance to go through her nervous breakdown with her, in an unheated Scottish house with no plumbing? What on earth does she mean by sobbing around the house and playing melancholy tunes like the wailing of the whaups? If you’re going to drag everyone to a glen in the back of beyond, at least cheer up and play bridge with them, girl! I liked the Scottish butler Angus (of course it was Angus) because he said what he thought, but of course he was a dreadful caricature. And the descriptions of nature — Skye in particular — were wonderful, but why bring in reincarnation? Ugh.

My very strong advice is to read Elizabeth Goudge for what she is: a mid-century author with a tremendous amount to offer. I think she’s marvelous. But don’t start with The Middle Window. Try The Bird in the Tree, or The Scent of Water, or one of her children’s books, and see what you’ve been missing.

Thank you, Jenny! It’s good to know that even with a most beloved author we sometimes encounter a book that is less than stellar, and this experience can help us to define what is most praiseworthy in his or her work.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the whole range of Elizabeth Goudge’s writing from a different perspective — a quiz!


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.