Book Club Reads: Rumer Godden

For August, the book club decided to read “any book by Rumer Godden.” It’s always fun to have these kinds of assignments, since when we gather to discuss our books, I always walk away with a greater appreciation for the writer’s style, and how they develop their craft.

This prolific writer (60 works in her lifetime) was born in England, and lived both there and in India before passing away at the age of 90; her final book was published one year before her death. She wrote novels, poetry, biographies and children’s books. You can learn more about her at this website that was created to celebrate here centennial year.

(Fun fact: Rumer Willis, the oldest daughter of actors Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, was named in honor of this writer.)

I had the happy accident of discovering I had read one of her books, In This House of Brede, years ago and had forgotten about it. And discovering this has probably earned me the label of ‘book geek’ among the other members of book club. Seizing on the opportunity to try another of her books, I was drawn to China Court, a book published in 1961, offering a glimpse into the life of an ancestral home in rural England.

The book begins with the death of the current generation’s matriarch. By the point in time readers are introduced to the family (covering five generations of stories) and the house, the once-grand structure is in need of repairs and the family fortunes whittled down to nearly nothing. We learn more about the family through the servants as they hold true to the rituals and traditions they know are expected of the house and the family name.

Characters are developed through trips back in time, where key events in previous generations are detailed that help inform how the house has declined to the point it has. At the same time, some of the family members’ actions may have unwittingly provided a saving grace that will let the house – now on the brink of loss – thrive once again.

As the story jumps back and forth, it’s sometimes difficult to track the different characters. But overall, it’s great to discover certain scenes right alongside the character. And the pace keeps up throughout, so you never really feel bogged down in a seemingly unending moment.

China Court ends on a note of cautious hope – not a neat and tidy “happily ever after” but instead a lot of optimism that’s also open to interpretation. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it as much as the first Godden novel I read…but I chalk that up to the kind of thrill of discovery you get when you’re first reading a writer. I’d have no hesitation in suggesting this book to a friend.

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