Julie Myerson recommends 'The River' by Rumer Godden
"Almost 2 decades ago, when I had two small babies, another on the way, and a half-written first novel at home, I had the luck to meet Rumer Godden. I was working as a publicist for a company which was publishing her new children’s book, so I drove out to the country to have tea with its ferociously busy, 80-something author.
It’s a long time ago now but I remember a parching summer day, a lawn bordered with roses and lavender, tea and cakes in a cool, shadowy sitting room. Most of all though I remember the dark beadiness of Godden’s gaze, which turned sharply on me when I (blushingly) admitted I was trying to write a novel. Her response – a simple brisk nod of approval as if there was no doubt in her head that I could do it or (more importantly) that it was something worth doing, gave me the necessary jolt of energy to finish it.
All of Godden’s fiction is very much as I found her on that summer’s day: brave, energetic, wise, dark, uncompromising. But The River – a slim, glittering, piece of prose perfection – is the one I go back to again and again. Based on Godden’s own Indian growing up, it unfurls through the eyes of Harriet – a bright, loving, awkward, inconveniently imaginative child. It’s a novel about the adolescent struggle to find one’s place in the world, the uneasiness of family life, the quiet struggle with tragedy and loss. It’s also, in the most unexpected and off-the-wall way possible, a love story.
But most of all – and I think this is why I love it so much – it manages to be a novel about writing, in all its most touching, shameful and glorious aspects. When Harriet, who wants more than anything else to be a Writer, writes a poem that she knows is good, she experiences ‘waves of bright-eyed satisfaction’. When life and the people around her make her furious, she says ‘I give up!’ but – annoyingly! - she knows that the ‘other part of her’ is ‘far too interested to give up’.
Those two observations – the bright eyed satisfaction, and the sheer inability to give up on this fascinating, exhausting, relentlessly irresistible world, tell you pretty much all you need to know about the state of being an author. If you haven’t yet read The River, you have a treat in store. Read it, love it, then go and tell someone else to read it too."
About the book
You can't stop days or rivers...
Harriet is between two worlds. Her sister is no longer a playmate, her brother is still a child.
The comforting rhythm of her Indian childhood - the noise of the jute works, the colourful festivals that accompany each season and the eternal ebb and flow of the river on its journey to Bay of Bengal - is about to be shattered.
She must learn how to reconcile the jagged edges of beginnings and ends.
The River is Rumer Godden's beautiful tribute to India and childhood.
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About Julie Myerson
Julie Myerson was born in Nottingham in 1960. She is the author of 8 novels, including Something Might Happen, and her most recent, Then. She is also the author of 3 works of non-fiction, including Home: The story of everyone who ever lived in our house and The Lost Child.