Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reading Journal: "Ordinary Families"

This was one of those books that it was difficult to read entirely to myself. There were passages so delightful that I wanted to read them out loud. The book is full of marvelously comic set pieces. Uproarious sailing adventures along the east coast of England and encounters with eccentric neighbors alternate with beautifully lyrical descriptions of nature and reflective observations about the lives and characters of the people who surround the novel's remarkable narrator, Lalage ("Lallie") Rush. I fell completely in love with this observant, passionate, humorous young woman who wants to be honest and kind in a boisterous family and a social world that demands small daily acts of dishonesty and unkindness. Her family is loving and high-spirited, but Lallie realizes that, in order to live together, even good people betray their true selves. Lallie, for example, hides her love of birds and bird-watching from her family because she knows they will make a joke out of it and spoil the joy it brings her. Her family isn't cruel or horrible at all, they just like to tease each other. Like all close families, they have ways of interacting with each other, and certain expectations of each other, that often prevent the more sensitive members of the family—like Lallie—from being true to themselves. The novel is about how difficult it is to know and get close to another person, and how our need for other people often makes us compromise with ourselves. It sounds like a ponderous theme, but it's handled deftly and lightly. I read the book slowly, savoring both the humor and the lyricism. I have to admit that the very end of the novel was a bit of a disappointment, but only because I had fallen so in love with Lallie that it was hard to leave her as I had to do.

Remarkably, for a novel published in 1933, Lallie talks about having her period, and the physical and emotional effects it has on her—this, perhaps, for the first time in popular English literature (E. Arnot Robertson was a bestselling novelist in the 1930s). The novel is unflinchingly honest and observant, and wonderfully funny. I would place Lallie Rush with Cassandra Mortmain (the narrator of Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle) at the top of my list of favorite young female narrators.

1 comment:

Penelope said...

Sounds wonderful!

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .