The Scent of Water

Inspired by the reluctant dragon I borrowed this first edition of The Scent of Water from the Athenaeum. It has a delicious scent itself, the smell of old books, a scent that takes me back to the small dark Mt Hagen library of my childhood. These days, of course, most old books are weeded from the shelves of modern libraries, so they never have the chance to develop this nostalgic fragrance.

I'm sure I've read The Scent of Water before. It has so many ingredients of a classic Elizabeth Goudge novel -- it may even be the ur-Goudge of which all the others are mere shadows. There are the delightful children, one sensitive and at least one slightly comic and ernest; a seeker (Mary Lindsay, a middle aged single woman who comes to live in the village); someone bitter (Valerie, who sees herself as a martyred wife to her blind husband); a gifted artist (Valerie's writer husband Paul). There is the refuge of the church, a forgotten history of saintly monks, the wonders of the natural world.

The Scent of Water features several varieties of what we would now recognise as mental illness. Mary's older relative, also called Mary Lindsay, suffered from episodes of 'madness' -- perhaps bi-polar disorder. The Vicar's sister, Jean, struggles with acute anxiety. Valerie is probably depressed (luckily, it only takes some masterful behaviour from her husband to snap her out of it). The no-good son of the heroic old couple would probably today be diagnosed with PTSD; in 1963, when the novel was published, he has no support or sympathy at all after his traumatic war experiences, except from his indulgent parents.

But while Goudge can be judgemental, she is also compassionate, and she strives to understand why each of these flawed characters has ended up the way they are. Indeed, the explicit message of The Scent of Water is that love alone is not enough, without understanding.

The miniature treasures featured in this novel (the 'little things') would make perfect gifts for Borrowers; both books also include a cat named Tiger!


  1. That cover takes me back! I remember looking at it long and often - the book was on my mother's shelf - and liking the cover, but I don't remember if I actually read this one.

  2. The cover is rather lovely, isn't it -- muted but appealing, like the story inside.

  3. I'm glad you managed to get this one, Kate. I recently bought a trio of Goudge books on Ebay - The Rosemary Tree, The Scent of Water and Island Magic. I feel sure that I'd read The Rosemary Tree before, but I wonder now if it's just because there were (as you say) some of the classic Goudge ingredients - delightful children, a discontented wife, a pair of contrasting spinsters, a saintly and infuriating vicar-husband, a ne'er do well writer who just needs a good woman to believe in him... Which all sounds very formulaic, so why isn't it? There is always something in each book that consoles and inspires me. Should we organise a Goudge Symposium one day? Ha, ha... I don't think the academic world would be at all interested.

  4. We would be a select but very congenial gathering :)