The Castle on the Hill

Goodreads describes The Castle on the Hill as 'Elizabeth Goudge at her best.' Hm, I'm afraid I disagree. It's certainly Elizabeth Goudge, with many of the familiar ingredients of a Goudge story -- a fresh blonde heroine, a damaged artist, a kindly older man, a self-sacrificing older woman, a brave young soldier, a tortured idealist, and a couple of charming children to provide lightness and comic relief. However, there's a rather strained quality to this novel that prevents it from reaching the heights Goudge can be capable of.

This is another Coronet edition with a terrible cover -- absolutely no idea who these two are supposed to be. The woman has to be Miss Brown, she's not young or pretty or blonde enough to be Prunella. But who is the bloke? Presumably Jo Isaacson? But their whole pose is wrong, and oh my god, the hat and stripy shirt, the white suit, not to mention the woman's wraparound skirt and flowery blouse -- did I mention this book is set in 1940?? I despair!

The Castle on the Hill was published in 1942 and set a couple of years before, in the darkest days of the early war, Dunkirk and the Blitz, and I think this accounts for the slightly breathless tone in which it's written. It swerves uncomfortably close to being pure wartime propaganda, and it pulls too many of its punches to be really successful. The young pacifist finds an 'out' by performing courageous ambulance service in London; when a young woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock, the baby conveniently dies. There are pompous patriotic speeches and lyrical descriptions of 'this England' which 'we're' fighting for. For a Goudge novel, there is a surprisingly high body count, but hey, that's war I guess. I did enjoy the slightly more subtle spiritual thread that weaves through several characters and the thorn tree in the wood, and even that is not really that subtle!

I'm glad to add The Castle on the Hill to my collection but I don't think I'll revisit it as often as the Torminster books or the books about the Eliot family.

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