I’m looking for a show of hands, please: How many readers know that Rumer Godden was a mid-century novelist who also wrote children’s books and memoirs? How many know Bruce Willis and Demi Moore named one of their children after her? Bonus question: who can name a movie based on one of her books?*
Godden wrote wonderful children’s books, most of which feature dolls in one way or another: The Fairy Doll, Mouse House, Miss Happiness and Miss Plum. The Story of Holly And Ivy is a heartwarming and beautifully written Christmas story that makes a nice break from Clement Moore and Dickens at the holidays. My niece loved it so much that a reading in pajamas on Christmas Eve became a family tradition.
Her novels for adults are as sophisticated as her children’s books are simple, with adult plots and great settings. She had her own way of blending a character’s inner thoughts and spoken words seamlessly. Try The Greengage Summer, A Candle for Saint Jude (a lovely, short ballet novel), China Court, The Peacock Spring. She wrote two novels about missionaries who happen to be nuns, or vice versa: Black Narcissus and In This House of Brede. Her novels are set in India, in the South of France, in the English countryside.
She herself was a prolific traveller and moved herself and her children to some amazing (and sometimes terrifying) places, driven by finances and a thirst for adventure. I am not much of a memoir reader, but the book she wrote with her sister, the painter Jon Godden, about their childhood, Two Under the Indian Sun, is considered a classic by many. Some of her other autobiographical books include A House With Four Rooms and Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy.
From her autobiographies, I learned that my very favorite of her novels, An Episode of Sparrows, was her least favorite of her own books. I think it was written during a hard time in her life and therefore was associated with unhappiness in her mind. For me, it is one of the small, nearly perfect novels I treasure (Aha! An idea for another blog post!). As you can gather, Godden was wonderfully prolific, a plus for those of us who like to read our way through all of a writer’s books. Which is your favorite?
*Black Narcissus, Kizzy, Innocent Sinners, In This House of Brede, The River, The Greengage Summer, Tottie.