Sunday, 11 July 2010

The Peacock Spring

Half-sisters Hal and Una Gwithiam are suddenly withdrawn from their expensive British boarding school by their diplomat father who requires them to join him in India. The younger sister Hal (short for Halcyon) is delighted to leave school but Una, who excels at her studies wants to stay and take a maths exam.

Arriving in India, the sisters are met by Alix, the glamorous Eurasian governess their father has hired to teach them. The prickly Una, furious at her father and feeling that, at fifteen, she is far too old for a governess soon discovers that Alix is not competent to teach her maths at the level she requires.

Alix attempts to become friends with the girls, arranging riding lessons and social evenings for them but is continually rebuffed as the sisters gradually become aware that their presence in India is only required to make their father's relationship with the governess appear respectable.

Jealous of Alix, resentful of her father and missing 'Crackers' her former headmistress and the only mother figure she has ever had, Una begins to take refuge in an old summer house at the bottom of their exotic garden where she meets the handsome young Indian gardener who is also a poet and he helps her to forget about her maths.

Godden excels at coming-of-age stories and is not coy about providing the physical details of nausea, menses and sexual awakening. She also provides characters with depth. Una at times is stroppy and headstrong and Alix is possibly one of the worst step-mothers-to-be ever created in fiction, yet when Una desperately needs someone on her side it is Alix who finally roots for her.

16 comments:

LizF said...

I am loving your reading of all things Godden - it is really inspirational!
I have just picked up The Peacock Spring from the library and am really looking forward to reading it especially after your review.

bookssnob said...

I am really enjoying your Rumer Godden reading too! This one especially sounds wonderful. You are tempting me to run to the library and take everything by Godden off the shelf!

Hannah Stoneham said...

What a super review - I have not read this but I think t may have been the basis for a TV adaptation some years ago - I may be going potty, but I think so - if so, it was good on the box as well as on the page.

thanks so much for sharing

Hannah

Sara said...

This story is one I will never forget. I was surprised years ago to stumble across a movie version while flipping through channels on TV late one night...I have never found it since. But there's no substitute for the written story.

Danielle said...

Her stories really are appealing. This is the book I've requested via my library's interlibrary loan. No local library has it, but there seem to be loads of copies out there, so I am impatiently waiting for an email saying it's arrived! I read Pippa Passes ages ago and recall it being another good coming of age story.

Susie Vereker said...

What a lovely cover. Must order it immediately.

musingsfromthesofa said...

I'm going to have to get this too, it sounds great.

Penny said...

It's now on my 'to be read' pile! The introduction is interesting, isn't it? I so wonder about what happened to the real, live, girl it was based on...

Vintage Reading said...

LizF, please let me know what you think of TPS. It's quite autobiographical I believe.

booksnob, hi, hope you can find something by RG in your library - all held in reserve stock in my library - which you have to pay for.

Hannah, yes, there may well have been a TV adaption. Godden was quite a literary grande dame in her day.

Sara, yes, I prefer the written word to the dramatised word. I do like the Black Narcissus film, though, and RG didn't!!

Danielle, is Pippa Passes the ballet one? I'd like to read that. Hope you have better luck with your library than I've had with mine.

Susie, please review it if you do read it. I've not seen many reviews of TPT in blog-land!

musings, hi, it's a great read.

Penny, yes, I've been reading Anne Chisholm's biog of RG. Wasn't the story based on what happened to a school-friend. Hope it all worked out OK for her.

LizF said...

Haven't read The Peacock Spring yet - that is next in line as I feel I am on a bit of a Godden roll - but I have just finished The River and am quite taken aback by it!
Such a short book but so beautiful and so true - she was superb at getting into children's minds and Harriet is a wonderfully written character. She rises off the page almost and I remembered just what it was like to be not a little girl anymore, but not quite grown either, when certainties turn out to be not what you believed at all and you wonder where you fit in the world.
Quite marvellous - so now I have to break my book buying embargo and get my own copy asap!

Mae said...

I just read through your reviews of Godden. Thanks for introducing her to us! I'm not sure if she's available here though but your covers are beautiful. I'm a sucker for pretty covers along with an intriguing story.

Danielle said...

Pippa passes is set in Venice and if I recall correctly it does have something to do with ballet. It's another of her novels that could easily be read by a YA audience as the main character is young herself. Godden does children/YA characters so well.

Margin Notes Books said...

"The Peacock Spring" was a BBC TV film, but sadly, not one that's made it to DVD.

Lovely - made me want to find the box my Goddens are in - she does wonders with awkward teenagers.

makedoandread said...

This was one of my favorite Godden novels. I've always had a sneaking suspicion for Hal, who must have found both Una and Alex so tiresome to live with. :)

tmmerimee said...

I just finished reading The Peacock Spring!! I couldn't put it down! I would sit in a quiet room to put my baby down for his naps or bed and spend a little too much doing it just so I could read as much as possible!! I understand that Masterpiece Theatre made a movie based on this book, and was wondering if anyone out there knows how I can watch this production. I've looked all over the internet with no luck. Thanks for your help!

Vintage Reading said...

tmmerimee, so glad you enjoyed The Peacock Spring. Rumer Godden is a wonderful writer.