Monday, August 6, 2012

An Episode of Sparrows

Lovejoy Mason, a child abandoned by her mother to her landlord's care while she pursues a fading career on the stage, wants a garden. Her first attempt is thwarted by the angry attention of a gang of boys but in the process, she lures Tip, the gang's leader, into being her helpmate. A second attempt is launched to whose success Lovejoy bends the egocentric will of childhood, made doubly effective by its underlying innocence, drawing Tip along in her wake.

The garden, however, needs 'good garden earth' that can be bought from the Army and Navy store for seven shillings and six a bag or 'borrowed' from the nearby Square: a borrowing that must occur by night and one very much perceived as stealing by the formidable Angela, head of the Square's Garden committee, doyen of 'good works' and of 'pity'.

Lovejoy and Tip are from the Street: a lower order altogether than the Square and imagine 'dirt' is common to all and there for the taking.

Out of this simple material of childhood aspiration (and disadvantage) and class, Rumer Godden weaves her usual magic of strong narrative, keen observation and an extraordinary grasp of the psychology of childhood confronted by the mysteries of the adult world. Lovjoy wrestles with the mysteries of an unfamiliar Catholicism (the garden is located on the site of a bombed out church), of buying on the HP and the uncertain affections of adults (most especially her mother).

A sub-plot is Vincent's, Lovejoy's landlord's, attempt to forge a restaurant from his own high aspiration and countervailing poor geographical location. Location wins.

As Godden remarks in her preface, like many of her works an accessible and engaging narrative points towards but does not state deeper themes.

One such is the contrast between 'charity' and 'love'. Angela has the former but lacks the latter; lacking the latter her acts are drained of the former. It is up to her elder sister, Olivia, a frail invalid, to set the balance right in an act that she can only manage through her will. Angela is all efficiency and knowing which means that she never asks the right questions, never listens to the texture of things. Olivia extols the virtue of groping after answers because only then can you acquire the humility necessary to ask the right questions, see into the actual texture of things (and, finally, she finds the courage and energy to act on her intuitions when faced with a clear injustice).

It is, like all her novels, an act of accomplished story telling that widens and deepens your sympathies - and suggests we listen more deeply to what is present.


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