Monday, April 8, 2013

China Court



It would be a misnomer to call this novel of Rumer Godden's 'experimental'.

She is a gifted novelist whose closely wrought tales have beginnings, middles and ends and never deviate from a charming and psychological acute realism. As here, she can create scenes of striking truthfulness - when two of the protagonists, both caught in their own grief for the same person, meet casually in China Court's kitchen for the first time and want to reach out, but fail, to comfort each other and yet make a hidden, real connection that must wait before it can be expressed.

Yet, she plays with time in a remarkable way, moving from period to period in the house's and its inhabitants' history over four generations, sometimes within the same paragraph, creating both a remarkable sense of continuity and yet showing how times do change, possibilities arise and fall away. She is beautifully astute on the practices of the English class system and on the licence and fragility to be found in a servant's position.

As usual, she is especially acute dealing with young people on the threshold of development and the agonies of being yet a child but also a burgeoning adolescent or young adult. The awkwardness of the transition of seeing but not being included, of being included but not understanding or, at least, only through a glass darkly.

Virago Modern Classics have re-introduced many of Godden's novels, rightly placing her as a significant twentieth century novelist, who is wholly accessible and yet acute and wise.

I expect we are meant to imagine her as 'middle brow' but if so, it is a memorable and delightful place to be.

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