Friday, May 14, 2010


Dear Friends, as Fr. Satish, our friendly Indian priest, starts all of his homilies, I’ve done you a disservice. I just finished Castle on the Hill by Elizabeth Goudge, and I am sorry I didn’t choose it for this month’s read. It's a lovely little book.

Part of the reason I didn’t pick it is that I don’t want to make anyone buy a book she didn’t want to keep on her shelf, and though I’ve read a couple of Goudge’s other books, I’d never read this one. But I’m rethinking my original thought: It is worth reading again, and would be good to have around for older kids to read, too. I’m still going to read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but I highly recommend the Goudge book, if you want to read something heartening.

The two books couldn’t be more different, although they were written only a couple years apart. Goudge is writing about England in the time of the blitz while it was going on. The story follows the disrupted lives of a musician, a housekeeper, two little girls, and three British gentlemen on the cusp of losing the gentile castle life they’ve been leading. The description of the English countryside where the castle is located is beautiful, effectively heightening the sense of impending loss. But even though you know that the world is about to come tumbling down around these characters, that death is everywhere, and that a couple of the characters are on the verge of hopelessness, the tone of the book is never hopeless.

In a way this book reminds me of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, being set at the same time, but the former is character driven, while reading Castle you become attached to the place and feel the painful loss of a culture, although all along you are reassured that life will continue to flourish (and of course you have 70 yrs of history in between). It also reminds me of Rumor Godden's writing. and, as with most female British writers, there’s the inevitable comparison to Jane Austen: Goudge includes a flighty girl who contrasts with the thoughtful female housekeeper, but Goudge’s women are not nearly as witty as Austen’s.

I wonder why Goudge hasn’t remained on many library shelves. I’ve liked her books better than Rumor Godden’s, except maybe Brede, which probably sustains Godden. Perhaps she’s overly sentimental for some people’s tastes. And she wraps up everything up a bit too neatly; what with the same characters running across each other’s paths without realizing it and intimations of ghosts, it’s almost a fantasy. But on the other hand, even though the story makes no extraordinary demands on the reader – Goudge makes sure you notice when a character realizes something and what it is he learns - there’s enough exposition to lose readers who only want to be entertained.
It’s too bad her books aren’t easier to find, because the three I’ve read have all been a treat. I'm going to type up a few of my favorite lines and post them on my blog sometime.

Meanwhile, I’m afraid that The Heart is a Lonely Hunter will be more of a downer. I started it the other day, and had a hard time getting interested in Mr. Singer or his drunk friend. I finally made it to the Mick section and find her more compelling. So we’ll see where this goes, although I’m skeptical that it have the happy ending of Goudge’s book.


mrsdarwin said...

Waitaminute! I just finished McCullers, so we'd better have a discussion! And yeah, it is a bit of a downer, I think, though a well-written downer.

I read Castle on the Hill years ago -- it was one of the many random summer reads that various family members left at my grandmother's house on the shelves upstairs in the guest bedrooms. I remember it being a lovely, gentle story. Doesn't it involve a little girl who goes into peals of laughter at the thought of Peter Rabbit's father being made into a pie by Mrs. McGregor?

BettyDuffy said...

Just finished Lit, and I'm starting Mccullers sometime this weekend. Don't feel bad about your choice. I'm excited to read it. I sort of like downer books.

BettyDuffy said...

Also, I'm noticing that we all seem to be up pretty late tonight. Will kick ourselves in the morning.

mrsdarwin said...

My being up late problem stems from the fact that I sometimes nap for a bit when the kids go down, and then I get up to talk to husband, and then I stay up as late as he does. Probably not a winning sleep strategy, but one I'll utilize until baby is born and then I'll have to go to sleep early to get any rest at all.

Emily J. said...

Mrs. Darwin - I have the same problem. I fall asleep with the kids for 20 mins and wake up refreshed. With no husband to talk to, I just read blogs till I'm cross-eyed. And sometimes books. I need someone to tell me to go to bed. I don't have your bra problem, though: Teen department, $3.99, even after nursing 6 kids for about 10 years, or maybe because...

You have a great memory about Castle on the Hill. The little girl first cries because the description of 4 rabbits under a tree with their mother reminds her of home, but then she laughs at the understatement of the father being baked in a pie. I wish I had forgetful relatives to leave behind good books, but I guess we found plenty of other good reads on our grandparents' shelves.

mrsdarwin said...

Lots of books of more questionable provenance were left at grandma's house. I first read The Godfather there, which though an interesting book was probably not appropriate reading at the age I read it at (the age now forgotten, but definitely too young). Also, Summer of '42, which Amazon reviewers recall with great nostalgia, but I remember being all about teenage boys wanting to have sex. (And I read it avidly, to find out more about teenage boys and sex.)