The Rosemary Tree

What a lovely title for a book! I do find Elizabeth's Goudge's titles so beautiful, instantly appealing: The Scent of Water, City of Bells, Towers in the Mist. They just push my buttons (buttons which may have been set in the first place by reading her novels... cause or effect, who knows?)

Having said that, The Rosemary Tree is not a perfectly successful book, in fact as Goudges go, it's fairly pedestrian, but it did contain lots of beautiful moments to keep me going. This was on the shelf in my parents' house, so I think my mother may have bought it once upon a time -- this edition was from 1977, so too early for me to have acquired it myself!

Apparently this book was the centre of a controversy in the 1990s when an Indian author, Indrani Aikath-Gyalsen, plagiarised it for her second novel, changing the setting to India but copying the story in many places word for word. After the plagiarism was uncovered, the author took her own life. A sad shadow to hang over a lovely book.

Most of the Goudge ingredients were in place -- long backstory explanations for each major character, ruminations on faith and beauty and the power of forgiveness (all things I believe in, and enjoy reading about), massive coincidences and a final neat resolution in a beautiful natural setting, this time Devon in the 1950s. Though I did quail when the lovely shabby manor house was 'saved' by being sold to become a monastery -- I don't know how long that was going to last!

Elizabeth Goudge tends to set up her stories with a long introductory set up where she lovingly arranges her characters like chess pieces on her board and tells us all about their lives and what's brought them to this point; then there is a series of moves where the characters connect and collide and everything changes (generally for the better); then we're done, and the figures on the baord are left standing in slightly different orientations from before. It's not exactly plot-driven, and it's not pacy, but it's very soothing to read, and absorbing once you allow yourself to be captured by her world.

I've made what seems to me a revolutionary, liberating decision, and one that goes against the advice I regularly give to writing students when I visit schools -- from now on, I'm only going to read books I enjoy. Life is too short to do otherwise. So you can expect plenty more Elizabeth Goudge book responses on this blog.

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