A writer friend told me that publishers of fiction today don’t want much descriptive language. In today’s soul there is no time or patience for the poetic or anything that makes the reader slow down to reflect on beauty or really see the setting vividly. It an author can’t cut to the chase, forget it.
Much of today’s fiction reflects society. It’s coarse, violent, irreverent, and ironic. Gradually, libraries are putting the old fiction on the book sale tables and replacing it with the new vulgarity. There are some libraries in our system that I don’t bother to visit anymore. After realizing that the old books I have loved are gone or dwindling, I wander the aisles pulling book after unfamiliar book down, only to replace them on the shelf. The fly leaves say it all. Postmodern despair. I simply refuse to fill my mind with that. It isn’t the reality of sin and trouble in books that turns me off. It’s how the author handles the realities of life that matters. An author will either leave you with hope or despair, depending on their view of life and truth.
I find used books where I can as I’ve noted in other posts. There isn’t a lot of time for reading in my life, but in that I don’t watch much TV (unless it’s the odd special on PBS), reading is my favorite pastime. A couple of nights ago, I took down a book from my shelf by one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Goudge. The book is The Scent of Water, published in 1963.
Reading before bed, I found myself again in the lanes of rural England where a middle-aged, single career woman travels to find the house left her by her elderly Aunt Mary. She has given up her life and job in London for a life in a small village.
The characters are immediately interesting. The former Oxford academic and now vicar in the village and his sister who lives with him are two of the compelling characters. I loved the vicar’s sister, Jean, best in this book. In many ways, I can identify with that sister. Also in the story are the blind writer and his wife who is resentful at the way her life has treated her. No character remains unchanged in this story, and this couple is no exception.
Two of my other favorite characters are the elderly retired military man, Colonel Tom Adams and his wife. Despite tragically losing three of their four sons in the war, these two are the picture of love and contentment, even with their straightened circumstances financially. One of my favorite paragraphs is when Tom’s wife shares a surprise with her husband as they sit in front of the small fire in their cottage.
“Tom,” she whispered, her face alight with the joy of divulging a secret she had been keeping for this moment, “there’s a fowl for lunch tomorrow, plucked and ready for me to cook. Gladys from the Vicarage brought it this morning while you were in the garden.”
Those words might not seem like much, but they describe the pleasure these two take from simple gifts like having a chicken to cook, the kindness of neighbors who help them with household chores they can no longer do, and the love of each other’s company. What happens with their remaining, troubled son makes up an important part of the story.
If you would like a beautiful, heartwarming story, The Scent of Water will give you delight. How mercy, goodness, forgiveness and hope overcome failure, shattered dreams and fear is the heart of this book. It is only one of the many treasures given to the book world by Goudge.
By contrast, I picked up a book on a library table that initially looked attractive. It shall remain unnamed. Published in 1949, the book was also about life in England between the world wars.
There was no hope in this book. Every character you began to like and champion ended up being a letdown. There was no moral center to the story, even when you thought that one was developing. Shallow, stupid, unloving people injured each other again and again. The book is a classic, and I really have to wonder why. There was nobody to like in the story, no redeeming qualities emerged, the characters got worse and worse. I threw the book aside.
Am I just looking for happy endings? Literary white bread and Miracle Whip? No. I love happy endings, but some books I have read have had a powerful message without them. It’s the worldview of the author that comes through, and for me, even in death, or sorrow or hurt, there has to be hope and there has to be love somewhere in the story.