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.


Maclin said...

"Understanding is a creative act in a dimenstion we do not see."

What a good thought. I certainly hope it's true.

Pentimento said...

I think it resonates with our conversation about praying for the dead as if they were still alive. Our prayers and our attempts to console, even if they appear to fail, don't fall into a void; God uses them.

Anonymous said...

Elizabeth Goudge also left behind a wonderful book of poems she collected and dedicated to the theme of "peace in the individual spirit and in the world"--A Book of Peace.

I am looking forward to reading The Scent of Water. Thank you.

~ Maria Horvath

Pentimento said...

I will look for it, Maria -- thanks for the recommendation.

There's an unofficial Elizabeth Goudge reading group going on at present on Maclin's blog, -- you should stop by if you haven't yet.

lissla lissar said...

Hm. I've only read The Little White Horse, which is a children's book. I'll look for her other work.

Riffing on the prayer comments- In Two Part Invention, by Madeleine L'Engle, she quotes George MacDonald, who was asked what good he thought his prayers would do, and he answered, "Why should my love be powerless to help another?"

Pentimento said...

Hi Lissla - always nice to see you here. In Scent of Water, one character says:

"Nothing is ever over . . . You thread things on your life and think you've finished with them, but you haven't because it's like beads on a string and they come around again. And when something bad you'v doen to a person comes around again it's horrible, for if the person is dead there's nothing you can do."

To which the main character, Mar, replies:

"I have thought lately that sometimes there is . . . When it comes around again, then if it is possible, give what you failed to give before to someone else. You will have made reparation, for we are all one person . . . . we come from the one God and await the one redemption."

This struck a powerful chord with me, since I have tried in this exact way to make reparation for the bad things I've done.

Maclin said...

Obviously I need to read this book.

Pentimento said...

Yes, Mac, you definitely do.

Pentimento said...

Oh, the lead character is named Mary, not Mar.

lissla lissar said...

Thanks. We've just moved and our computer died, so I haven't been online much recently.

I'll look for the book.

Emily J. said...

I love this book, too! Glad others are sharing in the pleasure!

Arachne said...

Elizabeth Goudge is the only writer to whom I have ever sent a fan letter. She was even kind enough to reply. Unfortunately I lost her letter, though I can still recall the blue paper on which it was written. I read all her books avidly as a teenager and still have 14 of her novels still on my bookshelves. A distinctive and underrated novelist.

Pentimento said...

That is SO cool, Arachne.

She seems like exactly the kind of famous writer who would reply to a fan letter from a young girl, the kind of person who in New York-ese would be known as "a real mensch."

I'm reading Pilgrim's Inn now, which I love.