Spring had jumped straight out of heaven into London.
–Elizabeth Goudge - The Middle Window - Prologue - pg 11 - c.1935
This isn’t the sort of book I normally would have picked up, if I hadn’t recently read The Little White Horse I wouldn’t have been tempted by this. But there it was, in the library, so I figured what the hell.
And I’m glad I did, because although it is overly-romantic and a little sugary, it is still a great read. The first half of the book especially is entertaining. And funny. There are plenty of stereotypes here, and the use of the word Scotch was a little off-putting. But nevertheless it is a highly enjoyable read.
“Losh! Do ye want to drink yer tay out o’ gold an siller? Na, na, tay’s tay whatever ye drink it oot of. ‘Tis the tay itsel’, an’ the stomach into which ye pour it as must be in guid condeetion. The crockery’s of no importance to a body wi’ a grain o’sense”
Judy Cameron is the main protagonist. A respectable young lady, soon to be married to a nice young man, Charles;
wondered if perhaps before the matrimonial knot was tied it wouldn’t be as well to take a firm stand with Judy, to indicate gently but firmly that a husband’s position was an authoritative one, and that occasional submission in a woman was desirable. But by the time they reached the suburbs he had decided that he felt unequal to the effort of indicating anything, and as for a firm stand, a soft sit was a lot more in his line at the moment.
Judy is a woman with a contented life ahead of her. But one day, out shopping she is drawn towards a painting of Scotland, and almost at once is drawn towards the highlands for some reason. She drags her entire family on holiday and subjects them to the Scottish rain and countryside, in a house without plumbing as she tries to figure out why she was so attracted to this place.
And then there is her landlord. The laird of the area, Ian McDonald. A man she is certain she knows, but has never met. Not in this life anyway.
Sir James liked him. Odd, but very much in harmony with his background. Sir James liked people to be in harmony with their backgrounds. This, to Lady Cameron, was no recommendation – she had taken such a dislike to the background.
Past lives and loves are integral to this book, and the shift between periods is well done. But overall the story itself isn’t great. You know how it’ll end, and what’ll happen. Likewise the characters aren’t all that fantastic. Quite predictable really. But at the same time they are given interesting things to say, and aren’t afraid to speak up, take Lady Cameron’s view on the natural order of things:
“the ideas of the overworked and underpaid are usually very nasty and uncomfortable … Revolution and supertax and that sort of thing”
“For the poor to want to murder the rich is at least normal and natural and has been thought of before.”
A sense of place is vital to this book. Scotland is as much a character as Judy, and the characters responses to the place are important in establishing their characters. Lady Cameron doesn’t like it at all. Charles isn’t a fan, but Sir James enjoys his days fishing;
where he sat in a boat all day in the grip of that awful paralysis of mind and body that afflicts fishermen all the world over. Yet he appeared happy.
And to Judy the landscape and weather challenge her, as well as inspire her
Judy wondered, not for the first time, why the Scotch seem incapable of erecting a beautiful building. Perhaps, she thought, the grandeur of nature depressed them. Setting to work to build a church and happening to look up at the sculptured masses of the mountains they felt unable to compete with it, and despairingly slapping a roof on top of a few failed stones they left it at that and went to have a drink.
But I still really enjoyed it. Mainly for the style of writing and the language. It’s just charming, without the negative sense that word sometimes brings with it. And as this post has proved it is very, very quotable.
“An army is like a man, Judith, nothing takes the heart out of it like effort for no purpose. To be asked to die for a cause, that is nothing, that is easy, if the end be attained with the death throes, but to be told to go back with the thing undone after all the labour and sweat, that is an insult to the spirit of man that is hard to bear. I think that to be able to bear it is the final courage.”