Oh, what joy! Looking for something to read, I realized that there on the bookshelf beside my much-read copy of Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede, was a clutch of her other books, bought at a library sale many years ago and never read.
Why never read, I can't say. Maybe because I loved Brede so much that I just kept re-reading it and ignored these others because they weren't about Benedictine nuns. Or it just wasn't the time.
But finally the time had come. I picked up The Greengage Summer and fell into the world of four English children staying at a French hotel whilst their mother is sick and in hospital. Godden, I've come to realize, does children exceptionally well. There are charming characters, discovery, first love, betrayal -- and magnificent description.
The River is also about children -- with similar themes and equally wonderful description -- but this time the setting is India, where Godden was brought up. Though she is quintessentially English, Godden's love for India shines through every word. This is a beautiful little book, centered on a young girl's coming of age and her ruminations and discoveries about the nature of death and love and life.
With Black Narcissus it was back to nuns -- but not the peacefully running English Benedictine Abbey. No, this is a small group of English nuns struggling to establish a foundation in a remote village in Tibet. The added complication of an intriguing Englishman nearby and the seeming curse on the house they have been given to turn into a school make for a good story. Apparently this was a very popular film as well.
A Candle For St. Jude is the story of Madame Holbein's ballet school/theatre -- with all the clash of temperament and ensuing drama one might expect. A most satisfying read.
My favorite of this lot was China Court -- the story of an English country house and the family who has lived there for five generations. The characters are real and compelling and the descriptions are lush. Again, a good story with a satisfying ending.
Godden's writing style is masterful -- the past is always present in her characters 'minds and a word, a sight, a sound in the present often triggers a brief memory from the past. The stories are so rich, so multi-layered -- one of the reasons I've read and re-read Brede -- that they are like 3-D with Surround Sound -- or like life itself.
Godden wrote over sixty books -- I have two or three yet unread on the shelf. Then I'll have to go exploring...