“In me you exist,” says the house.
That’s a Rumer Godden sentence, and I’m susceptible to them. This is about a house and a family and the passing years. Godden’s China Court is about exactly the same thing and I correctly surmised that China Court was the second attempt and the more successful one. The book was important enough to her that she wrote it twice. Neither of them are my favourite Godden book, but there is something distinctively Godden about them all the same. I think she likes people coming to a realisation and acknowledging the significance of things. Making things matter. By which I mean fragments of experience, but literally things too here, Hence the first chapter is called “Inventory”. Things resonate as if they are lived, present in both their past and their here and now.
I liked the stuff about the house and time about as well as I liked it in China Court but the characters here are not really committed to. I was interested in Griselda, the reluctant matriarch, and Selina, the cold, dominating but lonely daughter of the house, and perhaps the Eye, the patriarch who is really too omnipotent for anyone’s good. But there was too much of Grisel and Rolls and Lark, and I did not feel I understood what made them tick. There was more narrative momentum too in China Court, I found, though the sense of everyone living at once is the same. It is indeed worth doing again, this book, worth doing again better – not that there isn’t that fly in the ointment of the slap in the face in China Court.