Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Review: Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge
Looking for a cover image I was delighted to see that it's been recently republished by Capuchin Classics whose motto is 'Books to Keep Alive" and I definitely think this one deserves to be.
First published in 1944 Green Dolphin Country is an epic story of two sisters living on the Channel Islands in the mid 1800's, and the man they both love. Marianne is a determined girl with a strong mind of her own and has little trouble dominating her gentler sibling Marguerite but they have a close and loving relationship until William arrives on the island. He falls in love with Marguerite and wishes to make her his wife but Marianne is having none of that and resorts to some devious methods to prevent the marriage.
William goes to sea and eventually ends up in New Zealand where he settles. Not the most upstanding of characters at times he has a propensity towards overindulging in alcohol and one night ,several years later, he decides to write home and ask Marguerite to be his wife and join him in New Zealand. Unfortunately, in his inebriated state he writes the wrong name and it is Marianne who receives the proposal and promptly sets sail.
Although William is shocked when they meet he knows he can never tell her the truth . The story follows their life together, confronting the struggles and dangers of pioneers in a new land and also the life of Marguerite at home until many years later they are all reunited and the truth comes to light.
It's a beautiful story.......a saga of love and loss, human frailities , forgiveness and redemption which carries one along on an emotional tide. The style is old-fashioned, not 1940's old-fashioned, but reminiscent of an earlier era. Elizabeth Goudge doesn't begrudge words - the book is long , my copy with its very small print is over 500 pages - and she writes long passages of descriptive prose which I love but some may not....
" But now, as the great trees of the primeval forest closed about him, shutting away past and future, leaving him with nothing but a couple of saddle-bags, a horse and his bare existance, the earth his mother for the first time held out her arms and pulled him close. As with his spirit in the deeps of prayer so now with his body in her arms, separateness vanished. The same ecstatic life that pulsed in his body throbbed also in the body of his horse, blazed in the sunlight, chimed in the birdsong all about him, sang in the wind in the treetops, aspired in the delicate veining of leaves and grasses and the silent miraculous unfolding of the flowers. "
In an endearing little foreword the author says " To all lovers of New Zealand it will be immediately obvious that the writer has never been there and she most humbly asks pardon for the many mistakes she must have made."
She's right - she really doesn't have a clue about NZ history or Maori culture but as long as the reader is aware of that it doesn't matter. This is a beautiful story and I hope a new generation of readers will get the same pleasure from reading it as I do.