My rating: 10/10
A must-read for anyone with an acquaintance with Rumer Godden’s body of work, and a fascinating stand-alone autobiography that will send the reader unfamiliar with her titles on a search to find out more. The first half of her two-volume autobiography, it covers the years 1907 to 1946; Rumer’s childhood in India and her various travels up until her ultimate return to England in 1946.
There is so much packed into this book, as there was in Godden’s life, that I will not attempt to give a detailed overview, merely a blanket recommendation – very good reading.
Rumer Godden was a complex personality; her novels and stories are often drawn directly from her own life and experiences. She could not have been an easy woman to be around, being one of the “driven” writers; she fully acknowledges this in this memoir; in many ways it feels somewhat like an apology to her family and her friends.
The latter part of the book, concerning Godden’s time living at Dove House in the Kashmir hills, was the basis for the novel Kingfishers Catch Fire. The reality was even more intense than the fictional account that it inspired; Godden delves deep into her motivation for that socially astounding retreat from the “proper” Anglo-Indian community, and she comments as well on the effects of that self-imposed isolation on her two young children. Jane and Paula were at that time, I believe, seven and five years old, and it would be fascinating to hear their own childhood memories of their wandering life with their mother. I am wondering if either of them has written about their lives in their turn. Vaguely I am thinking that there is a daughter’s memories of Rumer Godden out there somewhere.
This memoir reads like a novel, only it is so much better than anything fictional Godden wrote, because it is a personal examination of experiences, thoughts and emotions based on the writer’s “truth” (always stranger and richer than fiction), and it therefore shines a radiant light on both the personal life of this extremely talented and passionate writer, as well as showing the framework of her subsequent stories. Keep in mind that this is one person’s version of events, as Godden herself comments in the dedication:
For Jane and Paula.
This book is my life as a young writer; to me and my kind life itself is a story and we have to tell it in stories – that is the way it falls. I have told the truth and nothing but the truth, yet not the whole truth, because that would be impossible.
Most highly recommended.