The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

Rumer Godden and Elizabeth Jane Howard

 - Monday, February 03, 2014
These are some of the books that kept me entertained over the past few weeks. I rediscovered a couple of authors that I first read a long time ago. I had a lovely time reading some for the first time, and rereading others. The first person I caught up with was Rumer Godden, whom I had read before, but had no idea of how many books she had written or how many I had to read for the first time. Godden was born in England but went to live in Narayanganj (now Bangladesh) as a child. She and her sister were sent to school in England, but returned to Narayanganj when WW1 broke out. Back in England she trained as a dance teacher, and went to Calcutta where she started a dance school. Her book, A Candle for St Jude is set in a ballet school, run by an obsessive teacher who will not compromise and has a rather unhealthy interest in the young female students.
During her time in Calcutta her first best-seller, Black Narcissus, was published. Godden became interested  in Roman Catholicism, and Black Narcissus, Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy and In This House of Brede all reflect the influence of her conversion to the catholic church on her life and her writing. A number of her books are set in India, and evoke vivid descriptions of the colour, smell, light and noise of that most amazing country. Rumer Godden wrote over sixty books—for adults, children, non-fiction and poetry. Among my favourites are An Episode of Sparrows, The Greengage Summer, China Court and The Battle of the Villa Fiorita. Some of her novels have been made into films, including An Episode of Sparrows (Innocent Sinners, 1958) Black Narcissus (produced by the team of Powell & Pressburger), The Greengage Summer (Susannah York in her first role) & The Battle of the Villa Fiorita (1965, starring Maureen O'Hara & Rossano Brazzi). It is great to see that some of the titles mentioned here are being reprinted by Virago in their Virago classic series.

The second author I revisited is Elizabeth Jane Howard. Howard, who was known as Jane, died in January this year aged 90. She led a somewhat turbulent personal life, marrying three times, and had numerous affairs. After a passionate affair, she married Kingsley Amis, but the marriage didn't last—with Howard walking out. Although she wanted to remain friends, Amis never forgave her. Her first book, The Beautiful Visit was published in 1951, and won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize. Before writing The Cazelet Chronicle, for which she is most well-known, she published six more novels, including The Long View, The Sea Change and Something in Disguise.
The Cazelet Chronicle is the story of the Cazelet family before, during and after the second world war. It consists of five volumes—The Light Years, Marking Time, Confusion, Casting Off, and the final volume, All Change, which was only published late last year. I loved these books. Recently I picked up two of her books which somehow or other I had never read before. They are Falling and Love All. Falling tells the story of Henry Kent and Daisy Langrish who form a relationship despite misgivings on the part of Daisy's daughter—and Daisy herself at the beginning. When the truth about Henry, who is some kind of  sociopath, emerges Daisy is devastated. Love All is set in a small English town where an arts festival is to take place and follows the disparate people who come together to organise it. The relationships between a self-made millionaire, a garden designer, an young woman of anglo-greek background intertwine one with another and make for an absorbing read. Unfortunately, Howard has had her literary achievements eclipsed by her personal life, (for example the Daily Mail headline on her death read something like 'Ex-Wife of Kingsley Amis dies, Aged 90')—which she writes about in her memoir Slipstream. But her books deserve to be read as the wonderful insights into the lives of ordinary men and women who love and lose, live and die and sometimes, but not always live happily ever after.