Friday, 22 October 2010
Something Lovely in the Post
I've mentioned before that I'm part of a postal book group, which goes on for ages and then you get a notebook back full of comments about your chosen book. The last circle took about 18 months, I think, or maybe even more than that - but it has now come to an end, and The Love Child by Edith Olivier has returned with its accompanying notebook. You might know how much I love the novel (reviewed here) and I thought I'd share parts of what others had to say about it...
Never in a month of Sundays would I have selected this to read if I'd found it while browsing - it may be a Virago, but the title & the description did nothing to lure me in, nor did your "50 book" description on your blog, Simon. And yet, and yet... I am very glad you sent it along. Having set aside my prejudices I thoroughly enjoyed it - her writing moves along at a cracking pace & the deeply unsettling subject matter becomes part of the enjoyment.
Not only a delightful read, but a cleverly constructed one! One assumes from the title that the heroine will either be a "love child", or will have had one, and when you read the description on the first page of Agatha Bodenham both possibilities seem impossible. Suspension of belief no.1. A few pages later, and Clarissa has been summoned. The reader sees this as totally fanciful, but suddenly can "see" Clarissa with Agatha's eyes. Suspension of belief no.2. Clarissa is now "real" in Agatha's eyes and therefore in ours too. [...] A magical book which leaves its hooks in one.
Having read a chunk of Angela Carter recently including the translated Charles Perrault fairy tales I found myself approaching this in a state of mind very receptive to the fairy tale element. For me this was a grand amalgamation of Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Thumabline & more, with Agatha sitting somewhere between the fairy godmother and the queen who wishes for a daughter.
A beautiful and delightful story. I absolutely loved it just for itself.
I read this in one sitting - hanging out on the balcony with my cat, the strong spring sun warming us both - ideal circumstances to indulge in a summer fantasy. The book reminded me of A Midsummer Night's Dream - beings being summoned and disappearing, things that aren't what they seem, the borders between the real and the imagined blurring.
There is an unsettling creepiness about it - whenever the reader pauses. It strikes me that this dichotomy - the light, whimsical, airy fairy tale versus the darker creepiness reflects the state of Edith's mind following the loss of her father and sister. Unlimited freedom after an early life that was a model of repression.
What an interesting book. I collect Viragos (sight unseen even), but this is one I had never come across at least on this side of the Atlantic. It's such a whimsical story, yet sad as well. It reminded me a little of Rachel Ferguson's The Brontes Went To Woolworths - the same rich sort of fantasy lfie, but for Agatha it went a step further. I wasn't quite sure where the author was going with her story - I wasn't expecting a full-fleshed young woman though she was still limited in her thoughts, actions, responses by Agatha's mind (?) emotions (?) What was sad is the need to revert to this imaginary friend and then the obsession when others "wanted" Clarissa as well. [...] It's the sort of story where the more I think about it after-the-fact the more I appreciate it.
I loved re-reading this novel. I particularly like the last several pages - the interchange between David and Agatha. The cluelessness of both of them, in some ways, is monumental. They're communicating on wildly different frequencies!
I didn't think I'd like it. I dislike fey, I dislike whimsy, I particularly dislike being inside the mind of crazy people, and oh yes, I loathe magical realism! But guess what - I loved the book! First of all the crystalline clarity of the wrting world win me over right there. Then, to convey such complex, psychologically sophisticated themes with such simplicity is astounding. It's got none of them aberrations of the genres I disdained above - it's very much an odd flower from its own particular period.
I also dislike 'fey' and the cover of this edition aroused misgivings. I thought I would read the first few pages to see what lay in store... An hour or so later I had read to the end in one sitting. Like everyone else I was entranced by the quality of the writing and the psychological insight of this unusual story.
To me it recalled myths rather than fairy stories - Narcissus, Eros & Psyche, even Persephone!
I first read this book three years ago - also on Simon's recommendation. I loved it both times, but I can't really say why. 'Magic realism' would not usually be my 'thing' but this delightful and short story just hangs together so beautifully. This time I read the foreword by Hermione Lee and now can see where Edith Olivier's ideas came from - her own life and family. She was inspired to write the book after her sister died.