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.
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 …