Nan used sometimes to play charms with them. She dropped pieces of lead tinfoil into a saucepan of boiling water, and, when they were softened, she lifted them out with a spoon on to a cold plate where they hardened. Whatever shapes they made told your future.Four children, Bea, Harriet, Bogey and Victoria are growing up in colonial India. They live in a beautiful house with an exotic garden containing jacaranda trees, poinsettias, bamboos, bridal creepers, passionflowers and Harriet's special cork tree. Sitting on the veranda their Nan makes charms to tell their future. Bea's takes the shape of a ring, Harriet's a globe, Victoria's a bucket and Bogey's refuses to coagulate and take shape .
Like The Greengage Summer and The Peacock Spring, The River is one of those perfect coming-of-age novels which Godden excelled at. Told from the point of view of Harriet, a literary child on the verge of womanhood who keeps journals and writes stories, we learn of her jealousy of her beautiful older sister, Bea, who no longer wants to be her playmate and her affection for her rough and tumble brother, Bogey, whose penchant for searching for cobras in the garden ends in tragedy.
As Julie Myerson writes in her charming introduction to The River:
Plenty of great novels boom large and loud, but just occasionally along comes one so tiny and sneakily perfect that it stops you in your tracks.
I've never been lucky enough to come across a Rumer Godden novel in a second-hand bookshop so I'm collecting these bright and summery re-issues by Pan Books to read over the coming weeks.