Review: The Peacock Spring, Rumer Godden

As I write this review, I am in a state of near-perfect happiness. I will tell you why. I am sitting in an Oscar Wilde-themed cafe in the West Village, drinking coffee from a teacup and eating a scone with clotted cream and raspberry jam. There is a cafe in the West Village called Bosie (I know, right? What a weird thing to name a cafe!), and it has in the back a framed picture of Oscar Wilde (to recapitulate, I am not making this up), and it has these really lovely scones with jam. I am well aware that this sounds like I am telling you about a very pleasant dream I had, but that is not the situation. It is a real thing.

Anyway, after a week that caused me more anxiety and less joy than its events really warranted, it was nice to sit in this nice new little cafe, sipping coffee, nibbling a scone, and writing about Rumer Godden.

Rumer Godden — let me begin by saying — should be more famous than she is. I admit that her books for adults can be hit or miss, but of her books for children, there is barely a loser amongst them. She has a distinctive, oddly lovely way of writing; nobody writes the way Rumer Godden does. Even when she is writing a book that sounds like the most saccharine thing ever — like a family of dolls that long for a doll house — she never comes close to being saccharine. She is piquant instead. Do not ask me how she accomplishes this, because I don’t know.

The Peacock Spring is all about two girls, half-sisters, who come to live with their father in India. Twelve-year-old Halcyon delighted makes friend after friend and falls in love with a deposed rajah, but bookish fifteen-year-old Una resents being taken away from her studies in England. She dislikes her governess, who is clearly having an affair with her father, and fears she won’t be able to go to university as she dreamed. Her only happiness comes from learning advanced math in secret from the under-gardener, an Indian poet called Ravi.

If you want a first Rumer Godden experience, don’t go with this. I liked it in sort of the same way I liked Promises of Love (but I liked that better than this): more because of its total RumerGoddeniness than for it on its own merits. Except with Promises of Love it was the MaryRenaultiness. The governess, Alix, is a very Rumer Godden kind of character — pitiable and selfish and not very nice — without doing that excellent Rumer Godden character thing of turning interesting and sympathetic when you don’t expect it. And there wasn’t enough of my favorite character, a friend of Ravi’s called Hem, who has integrity. Another of Rumer Godden’s many, many gifts as a writer is to write characters who have integrity and are not boring, all at the same time.

In brief: Rumer Godden is the best. But The Peacock Spring won’t necessarily prove it to you. But I promise it’s true. Read A Candle for St. Jude instead or, if it is Christmas, THe Story of Holly and Ivy. The former is wonderful (and Eva is going to like it! She’s going to like it! She is! You are, Eva!), and the latter is among the most heartwarmingly wonderful Christmas stories ever invented.

Who else has read The Peacock Spring? Anyone? Why do people not love Rumer Godden enough? THAT IS WHAT I WANT TO KNOW. I don’t mind about this book particularly, because it’s only fine and not particularly awesome, but some of her books are so great, and nobody has read those either!