The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge

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.

The Scent of WaterThat 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 beloved 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 accustomed to having possession of the old woman’s garden and wary of the new arrival…

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 her neighbours, what she had coped with, and how she had coped.

This is a quiet story but it is so well drawn, the people, the places, the situations all utterly real.  And it is a story enriched by lovely descriptions,  and by true emotional and spiritual understanding.

A book to read slowly so that you can be drawn into that world, so that you can appreciate everything that is there, and so that you can appreciate that understanding.

I wouldn’t have appreciated this in my early days in the adult library, but I do appreciate it now.

The right book at the right time.

And that’s four out of four to my mother!

Though she is fallible. She told me that Barbara Pym was dull, and that she had only kept her copy of I Capture The Castle because it had been a gift, it wasn’t very good …

10 responses

  1. I just read the Nicola Beauman of Persephone Books doesn’t like Barbara P. either. So your mother is in good company! (I love her books, though, so it’s two and two.)

    I was trying to remember the first ‘adult’ books or authors I read. All I can think of is reading Gone with the Wind in 7th grade and being impressed with myself because it was such a long book.

  2. I discovered Elizabeth Goudge when we were living for a time in England, just browsing in the library – but except for a couple of favorites that I still re-read, I haven’t really looked for her other books. This sounds just lovely!

  3. Oh dear, ‘fraid I agree with your mother about Barbara Pym! Just not my cup of tea. Tried to read Goudge’s The Little White Horse but couldn’t get into it. Loved I Capture the Castle, though!

  4. Pingback: Sunday Caught My Interest « Reflections from the Hinterland

  5. Every time I rad one of your posts I add a book to my list. Like you I read du Maurier and Christie as a teenager and Stewart more recently. Goudge is now on my list!

  6. I love all of these authors! I’ve read most of Goudge and find that I’ve enjoyed most of them, but disliked a couple, including her classic Green Dolphin Street. I much prefer the ones like The Scent of Water. And good heavens, I adore I Capture the Castle!

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