18 September 2007
I've just recently finished reading a remarkable novel. It might be my new favorite book! It's Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge. It was a long journey; I think it took me a month to read it. It had several features that are rare and desirable: stunning beauty of the fresh, clean, open-air kind; sevearl plot-lines or character interests, held together over a long, long period of time; and [best of all] amazing accuracy of Christian thought/teaching/truth without the outworn diction. I'm not sure it got truly orthodox -- but it hardly needed to.
Without giving exactly a plot spoiler, I woudl like to give studies of the two main characters. There are two sisters who enter the book as caricatures, rather 2-dimensional. The elder is determined, passionate, eaten up by a craving for something (adventure? love? faith?). The younger is relaxed, alomst lazy, mellow, easy-going. I definitely attached to the elder (Marianne) without effort, discarding Marguarite as the mere foil for Marianne's activity. And then the author showed her trick. Marguarite gets a whole huge section to herself, in which her profound spirituality grows and blooms into recognition while Marianne hardens and narrows. Marguarite's soul is the stuff of saints and martyrs, the illuminated selfless contentment of ecstasy and suffering. Well, anyway, stuff happens (some pretty crazy stuff) and Marguarite finds her entire existence shattered. She faces the meaninglessness of an empty night without love, without God, without any of the certainty she held for years. And Marianne? She constantly gets everything she wants, and her soul shrivels in proportion. But no more 2-dimensional episodes here. Again and again Marianne experiences one of those volte-face moments that are really only crystal-clear in novels, those moments that change a character forver, for the better, ransoming a soul for good (think of Jean val-Jean's moment of pardon by the Bishop, or Sidney Carton's internal transformation by love of Lucy, or Lizzy Bennett's "Until this moment, I never knew myself) -- yet Marianne doesn't change. She takes a weak leap forward, but falls back into her habitual patterns of ambition, energy, acquisition, and essentially selfishness. Meanwhile Marguarite suffers and serves. She is quiet, content, in pain; a suffering servant. Joy and beauty come back to her slowly, but instead of giving her herself, they give her God. And give her to God, forever. Marianne does have a final transformation, a final breaking and remaking -- but you'll have to read the book!
(How was that for a complete narration with a single actual fact?)
My only gripe was a nagging feeling that the book was too long. It was about 6 novels, tied together by strong threads, covering these women's lives from age about 8 to 68. But the struggle to contain all the minute descriptions of psychology was worth it. I recommend this book to anybody who wants to know how to write about faith without being trite. Or to anybody who wants to read a great "Christian" book that doesn't advertise itself as such!
There's an old movie of it, made in 1947. I don't imagine it would be any good. The synopsis shows considerable mutilation to the original plot, not to mention a complete lack of subtlety.
According to the infallible (ha ha) Wikipedia, one of Elizabeth Goudge's books, The Little White Horse was J. K. Rowling's favorite as a child. Interesting.
The British title of Green Dolphin Street was Green Dolphin Country, which actually makes more sense.