The Captain’s Wife by Eiluned Lewis

Captains Wife

“Remembering the calendars of her school days, where date after date was scored off with a neat stroke and a bold many coloured circle adorned the first day of the holidays; she wished that somehow she should reverse the process and spin out the days like a spider’s thread, finer and finer, longer and longer, a silken rope on which to swing forever.”

This is a book built from memories.

It was written by Eiluned Lewis in rural Surrey during the second world war, but it is based on the memories of her mother, Eveline Lewis, who grew up in Pembrokeshire as the 19th century drew to a close. A very different world.

Lettice Peters is the wife of a sea captain. She has travelled the world with her husband, but now she is settled back at home in St Idris with their four children; two sons, Ivor and Archie, followed by a daughter, Matty, and then another son, Phillip.

Both the town and the family home are wonderfully evoked. It is east to picture St Idris; a coastal town, its main landmarks a Norman cathedral and, a market cross, it is set between hills scattered with farms. And to picture the family as they move around their home, the town and the surrounding countryside.

As the story opens Lettice is preparing to travel to Dundee to meet her husband, who is coming home after a long voyage. She is outwardly calm but inwardly elated. Matty though is concerned because she isn’t sure what her father’s return will mean and she can’t quite remember what he looks like.

The perspective shifts gently between Lettice and Matty as we follow the Peters family over the ensuing months. That works wonderfully well, and both perspectives are perfectly caught.

Eiluned Lewis build her story from the moments in life that we remember. Some big things of course, but also the small details that underpin lives and stay in the memory.

The whole book is a joy, but it is the small details that shine brightest: Lettice carefully packing her husband’s clothes for his next voyage, and adding a few surprises; Matty joyfully scoring a point as her big brothers tease her; Lettice working out how to help an elderly neighbour without denting his pride; Matty bored as she stands on a chair for the dressmaker; and so many more.

Simple, yes, but quite perfect and utterly real. One particular moment between Lettice and Matty brought a moment between my mother and I back to me so vividly that I had to stop to draw breath.

The Captain’s Wife creates a vivid picture of a time, a community and a way of life.

I borrowed a copy from the library, but I have already ordered one of my own because I know that it is a book that I will want to stay with me.

It is published by Honno Press, an independent press dedicated to Welsh women’s writing, in its Classics series.

I am so pleased that they republished this book and I am looking forward to reading more from their catalogue.

3 responses

  1. Pingback: Semicolon » Blog Archive » Saturday Review of Books: August 22, 2009

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