I have always loved Elizabeth Goudge. It is such a relief to read something with no violence,bad language or sexual references. This book is 767 pages long, but it kept my interest for the whole book. I would rate it G.
This book is pretty concept-heavy. There are long moments of reflection by several characters and you can really see what they learn from their experiences. You’d think the result would be a high concept score, because some of the reflection is outstanding. But there’s just no getting around the intense sexism and racism/classism that pervades throughout. I shudder at the irony in the moments when Marianne declares that Englishmen are the superior race. As if having that thought doesn’t automatically erase the possibility of being in such a position. And her concept of “the poor”? Ugh. And of course Marianne is supposed to be quite the example of a woman, getting involved in business and using her clever head. But the message here isn’t that women can do whatever men can. Marianne’s ability is perpetually described as a curse and framed as something unworthy of love or any other favourable emotion, and the solution to her terrible marriage seems to be for her to hold back her opinions and pretend to be more fragile than she is. And that’s screwed up. So I’m taking one point for the sexism and one point for the racism/classism, and leaving the remaining three points for the rest of it.
The quality is mixed. There are some superb chapters in elegance, style and execution. But so many others fall flat and drag on. There’s also the typos, the weird "patois" French, the serious overuse of the word “flame”. And seriously “reverence” is not a verb. Ok, it can be, but the word Goudge is looking for is “revere”. Maybe the really good chapters were written in a moment of true inspiration and the rest of the book was just filled in by sheer force of will. Goudge was a prolific writer, and no one who writes that much does so entirely on the back of her muse. Muses just aren’t that disciplined. This book isn’t a page turner. As much as I enjoyed large chunks of it, I watched each page trickle by at an agonizing pace. Despite all that, I can’t get myself to go lower than a quality score of four. Not with all the excellent concept work, the irreproachable character development and impressive display of extensive research. I love that Marianne is actually clever. And I think the relationship between her and Tai Haruru is priceless, in so many ways. The book is like Marianne: you can’t ignore the amount of skill and work that went into it just because it’s lacking the ephemeral element that makes it a page turner.
Enjoyment is at a three. I’m very glad to have read it, but I’m just as glad that it’s over.
I read a lot of books, mostly classics. This is my favorite book. My point being, that is saying a lot - for it to be my favorite book. Read it. :)
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