Saturday, September 5, 2009
The Scent of Water
As a child, I spent a great deal of time at the neighborhood library, which had a brilliant, sympathetic children's librarian who often recommended books for me. As I grew older, approaching adolescence, she told me that she thought I would love the English writer Eliazabeth Goudge (pictured above). For some reason that I no longer recall, I never did read any books by Goudge, until now. My friend Janet, whose acquaintance I made through one of the felicitous online encounters that are a particular pleasure of blogging (she comments frequently at Maclin Horton's blog, where there has been much discussion of Goudge lately), encouraged me to buy myself Goudge's novel The Scent of Water for my birthday earlier this summer, and I'm very happy that I took her advice.
The novel is about Mary, an unmarried, middle-aged woman who leaves her life in London to take possession of a house in an isolated rural village. The house has been left to her by a distant cousin whom Mary had met only once, on a luminous, life-changing occasion, when she was a child. Living there, Mary finds slow and quiet waves of grace and transformation breaking over her, and a healing of the past, which affect her neighbors in their turn. The book is prefaced by a quote from the Book of Job: "For there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that the tender branch thereof will not cease. Though the root thereof was old in the earth, and the stock thereof die in the ground; yet through the scent of water it will bud, and bring forth boughs like a plant."
As one preoccuppied with an awareness of the possibilities of grace, transformation, and healing of the past, I find the book to be profoundly moving and to offer a great deal of truth. One character, a writer, notes, "if you understand people you're of use to them whether you can do anything for them or not. Understanding is a creative act in a dimenstion we do not see." Later, Mary considers that "love alone doesn't go far enough . . . It must be charged with understanding." The desire to understand others, no matter how strange or repellent they seem, is, I think the root of the compassion I wrote about in the post just below this one.