Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Bird in the Tree, by Elizabeth Goudge (Book review)

The Bird in the Tree, by Elizabeth Goudge

I'm reading the Damerosehay trilogy out of sequence; my review of the second book, The Herb of Grace (Pilgrim's Inn)  is here.

It's a slow-moving novel, full of descriptions and decisions, but without much action.  My guess after reading the second book was that you could more or less skip the first one, and I still think the first one might turn you off from reading the second, which would be too bad.  But it does have its own strong points.

This is the storyline: twenty years ago, in 1918, Lucilla Eliot bought a house by the sea, and began raising her orphaned grandson David.  For the past two years she has also cared for the three children of her son George, because George’s wife Nadine left him in India and went into the antiques business. (Lucilla can't figure out how selling Chippendale chairs means "living one's own life" more than, say, taking care of one's own house and children.) Now David confesses to his grandmother that he loves Nadine (she is only a few years older than David) and that they plan to marry.  Nadine arrives, supposedly to visit the children but really to face the music with Lucilla, and the three of them sit down for a “Talking To.”

Of course Grandmother is bossy and moralistic. Of course she should stay out of their business; technically, David and Nadine aren't doing anything wrong (Nadine and George are already divorced).  The trouble is, Lucilla's right. This relationship is going to mess not only with the already-messed-up kids, but with the whole extended family and even the ownership of the house. She also knows this from experience: she had the chance to run off with somebody years ago too, but realized at the last minute how that would affect her husband and children.

The way you can tell that this is a 1940 Elizabeth Goudge book and not a 2013 anybody-else book is that David and Nadine actually listen to the sermon, and end the story by trying to straighten things out. (Some issues aren't really resolved until the next book.)  David goes off to Europe for awhile (that doesn't sound too safe in 1938, but whatever).  Nadine takes a boat to India to make up with George. (Grandmother is still stuck with the kids.)

It's not big news to say that self-denial is not a popular concept in 2013. "Sticking things out" comes way behind "what I want right now" and "love is something you can't fight."  It's too bad that this book, flowery and dated as it is, isn't likely to have a lot of attraction for those young enough to get the most out of its message...but I guess we middle-aged ones can use a reminder now and then too.

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