Monday, June 30, 2014

West's Imperfect Narrative Flow Still Has Intriguing Characters

West, Rebecca. The Fountain Overflows.

Mary, Rose, and Cordelia are young British ladies with a precocious younger brother, gifted but irresponsible father, and musically adept mother. This account of their adventures--and those of their friends, teachers, and guests--presents a series of rather unexpected vignettes. Among other things, the family lose their furniture, combat a malicious ghost, and entertain a variety of unusual guests.

Depending on how one reads it, The Fountain Overflows either has many themes or no real theme; after a first reading, it comes a cross as a collection of disconnected encounters rather than as a story of growth or maturity. There are themes of loss (from the simple disappearance of furniture to the larger disappearance of family members and friends), isolation (particularly with respect to Cordelia), and resourcefulness (most evident at the end of the book but also present during early encounters with malicious ghosts and awkward home situations). The family remain poor--this is always seen as the father's fault--and the children and their mother are largely obsessed with music, to the exclusion of all else except occasional guests (particularly the girls' cousin Rosamund). Their father's political capabilities are also prominent in a few scenes in the middle of the book, in which the entire family befriend the sister of a murder suspect, and their beloved father takes steps to endure that the accused is given a fair trial.

I found the conclusion of this story both inconclusive and unexpected--I won't give it away, but it describes a circumstance that is unwarranted and unprecedented, and contradicts many of the values that I would have loved to have seen promoted in a novel featuring such an old-fashioned setting. While the majority of the book was enjoyable and the descriptions of various characters and old-fashioned London were particularly pleasurable, all of this was ruined for me by a twist that still seems, upon reflection, to have been wholly unnecessary. This event does force many of the children to mature a little more quickly, but at great cost, and the final pages describe not a rich coming-of-age adventure, but a flurried bustle of preparations that are largely separate from the events recounted in the rest of the novel.

This isn't an unpleasant book by any means, but it isn't one I would go out of my way to recommend.

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