Friday, February 20, 2009

Camomile in Cornwall

Yesterday I finished reading The Camomile Lawn, by Mary Wesley, another in my series of war/post-war books. There's a miniseries adaptation of it, which I saw first, and then I wanted to read the book so much I got it interlibrary-loaned. Having now read it, I find that the film is extraordinarily faithful to the book. There were some points where the dialogue was so much the same that it seemed ever so slightly pointless to read the book at all, but writing was so lovely that this feeling never lasted long.
The book begins in 1939, in Cornwall, where Helena and Richard Cuthbertson live with their niece, Sophy. Every summer all their other nieces and nephews--Polly, Calypso, Walter, and Oliver--come to stay, and this summer all of them except Sophy, who is 10, are on the verge of adulthood. Add to this mix of characters the twins, Paul and David, sons of the town Rector, two Austrian refugees, Max and Monika Erstweiler, and the various other people who attach themselves to the group throughout the story. We follow them through the war, as th
ey all grow up, have sex, fall in love, and enjoy themselves immensely despite the air raids. As we get further on through the book, more and more glimpses of the characters 40 years later appear, on their way to the funeral of one of the central members of their group.

The writing always has a certain quality of memory, in the way some things can only be described by vague, skirting words that talk about the thing without saying so. The dialogue is often quite hilarious and snappy, and sometimes very, very blunt, and the characters are a lovely mix of reality and very real ridiculousness, and all of them very individual. It was for some reason a really addictive book, even though I knew exactly how it would end.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I still have this to both read and watch, but can recommend Mary Wesley generally as a very enjoyable and affecting author. Her characters reappear through her novels as well, so you don't have to say goodbye to Calypso completely!

Of what I've read, An Imaginative Experience is probably my favorite, with The vacillations of Poppy Carew and Harnessing Peacocks a close second.


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