My rating: 7/10
A must-read for any Rumer Godden fan, though in my opinion not nearly as gripping as her first memoir, A Time to Dance, No Time to Weep.
Four Rooms starts with Godden’s permanent return to England, and follows her through her ongoing struggles as a divorced mother of two young children, working to support them with her pen.
Lots of name-dropping ensues as Rumer Godden’s books increasingly grow in popularity and she starts to move in exalted literary and film-making circles; while not terribly offensive this occasionally feels a bit gratuitous. But it was the reality of her life; she did truly gain the high stature her celebrity friends and compatriots suggest, and those circles became her natural habitat, so to pretend she was still a simple soul in a country cottage would be misleading.
She describes the long courtship by her second husband, and her emotional difficulties committing to a second marital experience after the abysmal disaster of her first tragic marriage. The second union had its ups and downs but Godden’s description of James’ final years and death is poignantly sorrowful, if rather briefly referred to. I certainly felt that her love and grief were sincere.
Fascinating glimpses into the backgrounds of many of the novels from The River onwards, plus details of Godden’s growing stature as a children’s writer and advocate for literacy which was a major interest in her later years. She also refers to her conversion to the Roman Catholic faith, and her sincere admiration for the Anglican and Catholic nuns, brothers and priests she met throughout her life, and those she came to know intimately during her research into her masterwork, In This House of Brede.
All in all an enlightening and extremely readable memoir by a gifted and memorable writer. And I do believe she was often her own harshest critic, seeing her work with true clarity, though she occasionally bridled at negative comments from reviewers on the “slightness” of some of her books.
Rumer Godden’s life spanned nearly the whole 20th Century. Born in 1907, she died at the age of 90 in 1998, actively writing almost until the very end. Her last novel, Cromartie vs. the God Shiva, was published in 1997, less than a year before her death. A fascinating and gallant woman, who weathered many personal storms, some of her own creation.
Rumer Godden’s much-quoted words sum up her philosophy in the mature years of her long and creative life:
There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day, even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person.