If it is cut down, it will sprout again,
and its new shoots will not fail.
Its roots may grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the soil,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth shoots like a plant.’
About 20 years after the end of World War II, Mary Lindsay, a single middle-aged woman living and working in London, received word that her older cousin, whom she had only met once, had died and Mary had inherited her home in the country.
Making a sudden decision to leave her prestigious job, her friends, and her future plans, Mary went to live in her new home. She had read Jane Austen’s books and decided that she would like to look at the few last fragments of Austen’s England before they disappeared forever – at least, that is the explanation she gave for her for her resolution, but deep down she knew there were other reasons.
Mary had led an interesting life and worked in the Admiralty during the war. It was there that she met her fiancée but he had been killed a week before they were to be married. With her trademark resilience, she poured herself into work with the Red Cross in Germany after the war.
Now, twenty years later she has made a life-changing decision that will help her to understand the past and gain insight into the lives of others that have touched her life in some way.
The Scent of Water is quite a lovely story with an unusual protagonist. Elizabeth Goudge really excelled in her characterisations and this book is peopled with some interesting and loveable characters. It’s so good to read a book and connect with the people in it. Her characters are always flawed people but she never leaves them without hope and one of the attractions of her writing is her gift of bringing these persons to a better place than they were at the beginning.
“People talk a lot of ballyhoo about suffering improving you. I should say that what it does is to underline what you were before…No, I can’t blame what I am on the war.”
“I deceived you and deception is stealing because it takes away the truth…”
The library catalogue of this book classifies it under ‘Domestic Fiction,’ amongst other categories (e.g. ‘Retired teachers,’ ‘Country Life’ and ‘Self-actualisation’ ), a description I haven’t seen before but I like it. It could be interpreted as dull or prosaic, but in Goudge’s hands it is charming and filled with wisdom and insight.
The author weaves a domestic story that introduces the reader to a whole village and its doings. She delves beneath the surface and gets to the heart of things, revealing heartbreak, disappointments and difficulties but always with the purpose of redemption.
‘If anyone had asked her what she meant by integrity she would not have been able to tell them but age had seen it once like a picture in her mind, a root going down into the earth and drinking deeply there. No one was really alive without that root.’
Mary’s cousin kept diaries over the years and in them she reveals her struggle with mental illness but also her belief that she was meant to ‘build something up for somebody, make something to put into the hands of another’ when she died. That ‘other’ was her young cousin, Mary, whose father had brought her with him to visit her many years earlier.
The quote at the beginning of this post is from the Book of Job in the Old Testament of the Bible. It highlights a theme that runs through the story and involves the various characters.
I did think that the story felt a little unfinished. There were some loose ends and I would have liked to have seen some of the situations more fully resolved but it was very endearing, nevertheless.
Linking to 2020 Back to the Classics: Classic with Nature in the Title