I have been wanting to write about both of the books in today's blog for a long time. Both, quite honestly, changed my life in that they put a whole new perspective on fundamental issues around childhood - what you experience, what you remember and how you deal with it afterwards.
Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows is one of my all time favourite books and one that I often give as a gift. It is out of print now but the beautiful Virago edition pictured here is widely available second-hand, and there is a kindle edition. This is the marvel of ebooks, making sure that novels that would have long lost their claim to a space on a book store shelf can live on digitally.
Rose Aubrey is the most wonderful heroine, charting the story of her life with her three siblings and her mother, all of whom suffer from the fecklessness of her speculating, spendthrift father. Themes of love and religion, good and evil, art and education populate the pages in the most inspiring, least didactical way possible.
The icing on the cake for this book is that is part of a trilogy so it is not all over when you turn the last page! This Real Night and Cousin Rosamund were both published posthumously but are also wonderful reads. I remember the personal anguish I experienced as the long, hot summer that preceded WWI is documented, with the ever-growing understanding that the beloved boy of the family, Richard Quin, will be tragically drawn into it along with so many others of his generation.
A wonderful, wonderful read, a million miles removed from so many modern books that neither satisfy nor nurture.
The Fountain Overflows is loosely autobiographical, which leads me on to my next book, The Devil That Danced On The Water by Aminatta Forna. Quite simply, this book is gut- and heart-wrenching in equal measure, but despite the terrible deeds and sadnesses that inhabit its pages, it is uplifting and life-affirming. The fact that it is a true story, Forna's autobiograpy, simply adds to the sense of amazement as one reads. It's one of the few books I've read that I honestly don't think I can describe. The events that unfold in its pages would be hard to believe as fiction; as reality, they are mind-blowing. Much of the story centres around Forna's father, Mohamed Forna, surely one of the most brilliant men of his generation, a man who embodied the hopes of Sierra Leoneans (and other West Africans) that independence would bring health and education to all.
I can't say anymore for fear of spoilers but if you want to read a book that will break your heart at the same time as giving you hope in humanity's resilience, choose this one.