Wednesday 20 July 2011

This Real Night

Rosamund was sitting up, resting on one hand, and looking round her. 'Forgive me if I go on about blue flowers, she was saying. 'I do so love them. Where was it, that place you went and stayed, where there was an old house high above the sea, and there was a flower bed built up on the edge of the cliff, so that you looked at blue flowers rising to blue sea, and above that there was blue sky? Somewhere in the West Country?' Rebecca West, This Real Night

This Real Night is the second novel in Rebecca West's trilogy. It is also a perfect novel in its own right. In fact, I think it is darker and more powerful than The Fountain Overflows.

This Real Night moves from the end of the Edwardian era to the outbreak of the Great War. Rose and Mary are getting public engagements as concert pianists, establishing a name for themselves as musicians and earning money. Cordelia is as obnoxious as ever and after flirting with the idea of becoming an art historian - which requires another expensive course - she gets married. Rosamund is nursing and Richard Quin enlists as a soldier. The wonderful Mrs Aubrey is now in decline and characters familiar from The Fountain Overflows resurface. Mr Morpurgo provides financial support, Kate is the loyal servant with a gift for clairvoyance, Nancy Philips pays a visit and Aunt Lily continues to dress in a way which causes small boys to point at her in the street.

I won't give the ending away but keep a tissue handy!

Monday 4 July 2011

The Fountain Overflows

Rebecca West is remembered for many things - the novel Return of the Soldier written when she was just 26, an early career as a radical young journalist and suffragette, her affair with HG Wells and her extensive writing and travelling. Curiously, she is rarely remembered for the terrific novel she wrote in later life The Fountain Overflows which reflects upon an Edwardian childhood and the events leading up to the Great War.

Thank goodness for Virago Modern Classics who have re-issued West's finest novel with a cover appropriate to the story. Rose Aubrey is as charming a young narrator as Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture the Castle. Rose and her twin, Mary, are talented pianists who are taught at home by their mother a former concert pianist. Although the family live in abject poverty their mother knows their art will earn them a living one day. There is also a beautiful and tortured older sister, Cordelia, who cannot accept that she is not and never will be musical, a brilliant but largely absent father and a delightful little brother, Richard Quin.

West created a whole trilogy around the artistic, bohemian and female-centred Aubrey family. I'm hoping for good weather so that I can sit in the garden over the summer to re-read it.