Booknotes: The Scent of Water

June 18, 2012 @ 8:15 pm | Filed under:

This one’s going to take me a little while to find words for. I don’t know how to write about it, and I don’t know how not to. I was fifty or sixty pages in when I turned to Scott and said—I felt breathless—I think I found my favorite book. I knew I would probably enjoy it; I love Elizabeth Goudge’s writing; I’ve loved Linnets and Valerians more each time I’ve read it. But The Scent of Water went even deeper, burrowed right into the center of me. I kept thinking, I didn’t know, I didn’t know.

For now, while I’m sorting out why, I’ll let Elizabeth do the talking. Never in my life have I marked so many passages in a single novel.

“…a silver tankard of lilies-of-the-valley stood on an oak chest. The flowers and the polished silver gathered all the light to themselves…”

That one comes early, and I marked it not knowing how important the objects, and the gathering of the light, were going to be—in that first encounter, it was the sheer beauty of the image that made me gasp. I started the book a few weeks ago and then set it aside, and all through those days this line kept repeating itself in my mind. The flowers gathered all the light to themselves. What a poet she is.

The piercing clear deep ringing and ringing seemed thrusting through her almost intolerably. She believed she had not heard such birdsong since she was a child; yet every year they had been singing like this in the tall woods of England…

The poets did at least put it into words for you and ease the pain of it.

I have at least thirty more quotes marked but the evening has run away with me—as usual! I can’t possibly type them all out, anyway. I need to read it again. Soon. The night I finished it, I dove right into Linnets and Valerians to ease the pain of parting, and now I’m onto The Bird in the Tree. I have nearly her whole body of work ahead of me. Such riches!

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19 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Irene says:

    I read through many of Elizabeth Gouge’s novels, including The Scent of Water, about seven years ago. I remember enjoying them immensely. Thanks for the reminder that maybe it’s time to re-visit this book and this favorite author!

  2. sarah says:

    So lovely to find a book which inspires you deeply. Funnily enough, the next blog post on my Google Reader after yours was one from the charming NZ blog, The Scent of Water 🙂

  3. Joanna says:

    I love this book too – it resonates on so many levels. Have you read some of her others? If your children haven’t read ‘City of Bells’ they might like that (I live about 20 minutes drive away from Wells, the inspiration for City of Bells and its sequel, Henrietta’s House.)It was one of my early favourites(at about 11) and introduced me to the poetry of Shelley, which I read after reading this for the first time. The Damerosehay trilogy is great too. She writes houses and nature exceptionally well. My absolute childhood favourite was The Little White Horse (very badly served by the film ‘Secret of Moonacre’) and I also loved the juveniles Make Believe, set with the du Frocq family on Guernsey, and Smoky House.
    I must re-read the Scent of Water. Thanks for reminding me about it!

  4. Holly says:

    I am not as well-read as most of the folks who probably visit these pages, but I’m trying! Anyway, my mouth dropped when I saw this post. For Mother’s Day, my dear sister gave me this yellowing, hard back book, the kind where the pages are made from strong yet ragged paper and you can smell a smidgen of every house it has ever inhabited. She gave it to me and said, “I know this is kind of a random gift but I saw it and thought of you.” I finally started it this past week and I was instantly transformed. “I wish that I could write like this” has been echoing over and over in my mind as I drink up every.single.line. I, too, have had to keep a pencil handy to underline my most favorite parts..the ones that I would probably remember even if I didn’t underline them, but still. The book? Green Dolphin Street, by Elizabeth Goudge.

  5. Ellie says:

    Yes and yes and yes. When I read this book recently it went so deep inside me I actually wasn’t sure I could read it again *soon*. Does that make sense? Goudge has an ability to shatter us, in a way, so that we read with virgin eyes, as if there’s never been another book.

  6. Lindsay says:

    Elizabeth Goudge is one of my ALL TIME favorite authors. It saddened me that our library system didn’t have more of her works. I think you’ll like The Bird in the Tree. The Eliots of Damerosehay trilogy is my favorite of her writings. One good thing about this book is when you finish, you will have TWO MORE about the same characters (and some new ones to love) ahead of you!

  7. Karen in SC says:

    One of my all-time favorites too! I’m glad you’ve started Bird in the Tree. It’s the first in a trilogy, and the second one, Herb of Grace (titled Pilgrim’s Inn in America) is my second favorite of her books.

  8. Lesley Austin says:

    Oh, Lissa…I read The Scent of Water when I was in my twenties and I think from all the encounters that I have had lately with women telling me it is their favorite book, that it is probably a deeper time to read it in our forties and fifties.

    You know how I love Elizabeth Goudge’s books. Lately, tho’, I am more and more intrigued with the woman herself. I have got to get her autobiography and read it because I want to understand better how she came to have the insights that give birth to passages like those you shared. I wonder what her days were like and what it felt like to have her awareness and discernment.

    Also, I know she took care of her mother for many years and I would love to learn more about that. What a treasure she is!

  9. Ellie says:

    Lesley, it’s been a while since I’ve read her memoir — I’ve just placed a hold on it at the library to read it again! — but if I am recalling correctly, one of the things that stood out (for me) is that she was never to marry, although very much wanted and hoped to: there were so few men after WWI. I feel, as a woman who has never had that privilege (despite longing for it) that that definitely helped shape her writing.

  10. Edith says:

    Sometimes you believe you have your own private reading haven, one that’s secret from the world. Mine’s my shelf of Elizabeth Goudge and Nevil Shute books. (These I’ll lend to trusted reader-friends, but will never give away. Good luck, offspring!) To read all these comments on Goudge’s writing is to widen my private haven, invite you all in for crumpets and tea and talk, and ensure that you’ve read The Dean’s Watch. Delicious. (And I have no choice but to love Edith, don’t you think?)

  11. Melissa Wiley says:

    I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying all these stories! It’s wonderful to hear about your own connections with Elizabeth Goudge’s work. Edith, what a treat to see you here! I’ve not read The Dean’s Watch yet, but I’ve a copy on my shelf. And Holly, I requested Green Dolphin Street via inter-library loan last week—am hoping it arrives soon.

    Edith—tea and crumpets and talk, yes!
    That’s how I’ve always thought of our conversations here in the comment box. 🙂

    Lesley and Ellie, I love your insights re how Elizabeth’s background informed her work. I do think you’re right that Scent of Water may be best appreciated when one is a bit older…I don’t think it would have chimed in me so resoundingly when I was 20. I came to it at just the right time.

    She has ruined me for houses, though. Goudge and Montgomery between them. Lantern Hill, the House o’ Dreams, Uncle Ambrose’s place, now The Laurels…I’ll never stop pining, now.

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    Oh and Edith, I don’t know Nevil Shute’s work! Tell us more!

  13. Ellie says:

    I hope you enjoy Green Dolphin Street! That one and Gentian Hill were tremendous favorites of mine and my sister’s and our mother’s and our grandmother’s: in the 80s we were forever trading our grandmother’s copies round amongst us. Then my sister absconded with Gentian Hill when she moved out East and we all about spit nails. Oh! And The White Witch, too (about the English civil wars, fabulous book) … And The Child from the Sea! Oh I loved that one …. **happy sigh** What a wonderful gift she shared!

  14. Karen in SC says:

    You’ll meet more houses as you read more books. Most of the books have a house that’s worth pining for.

  15. Becca says:

    I don’t have anything substantive to add, but the topic of Elizabeth Goudge makes me happy sigh. Pilgrim’s Inn is one of my forever books–I have to reread it at least every two years. Gentian Hill is another one that’s made itself a part of me. I just read Scent of Water last month, and it’s such a treat to realize that my non-Twilight-ish book tastes are actually shared by other people!

  16. Joanna says:

    Nevil Shute – Trustee from the Toolroom is one of my favourites, and A Town Like Alice. Initially I was put off by the titles and the covers, but those two I love. Trustee is just such an – unusual – story. Try it.

    I like Elizabeth’s ‘The White Witch’ too.