Archive for the ‘Richard Church’ Category

The Crab-Apple Tree by Richard Church ~ 1959. This edition: Heinemann, 1959. Hardcover. 238 pages.

Throbbing with symbolism, as might be expected from a novel written by a poet.

The crab-apple tree of the title represents the life passages of an elderly ex-seaman who has returned to his old home in the fertile farmland of Kent. He has known and loved the tree in childhood, and returns to see it blossom and fruit one more time.

At this point stood a large crab-apple tree in full bloom. It had a bridal look under the bright sunlight. A hum of bee-music filled it, and the marauders in their thousands kept the blossom trembling, shaking out the rosy perfume as if it were bell-music.

“So there you be!” exclaimed the old man, eyeing the tree fondly. He was so enamoured that he did not notice the general decay around it: the tumbled fence the tangled mass of last year’s skeleton grasses and umbels knee-high up to the rotting boards of the house; the blind windows stuffed with sacking; the nailed-up central door with the brick steps crumbled into a heap; the loose slates accumulated in and over the guttering.

Yes, Jim Bright has returned from sea at long last, but he hadn’t expected to find his old family cottage empty and neglected. His aged mother had died, and he knew that, but where was his younger brother Tom? And why are all of his old neighbours so unwelcoming?

This novel is not a static portrait of a village Eden as one might expect – oh, no! – but instead a moving picture crammed full of all of the human emotions – incidents of love and kindness are challenged by jealousy and core-deep hatreds; lust walks the country lanes. Lust for power, for land, for money, for plain old sex – and the most lustful of all of the residents watching Jim with deep suspicion is prosperous farmer Jim Bellaby, who has a long-standing grudge against the Bright family, and a strong urge to indulge his taste for grinding people down who dare to stand up against his brutal personality.

Enter Maggie Jones, a young Welsh widow, baby at breast, sent to seek refuge with Jim by an old friend, and then the return of brother Tom, a man with many troubles, not least of which is a warped and damaged mind.

Jim Bellamy sees Maggie and his desire to take her over for himself surges hot within him, and all through the coming summer he relentlessly courts her, while she is torn between her anguished love for her dead husband, her devotion to her young son, her growing love for the two elderly men whom she is now keeping house for, and her own physical desires which increasingly refuse to be ignored.

Yes, things are getting complicated; not much simple life in this part of the country!

Tragedy and violence inevitably strike, but are tempered by the responses of a few good people, and the strangely unexpected transformation of an angry man who seems set to find some sort of personal redemption through love.

While the author of The Crab-Apple Tree seems to have been held in esteem by his peers as an accomplished poet, his fictions are slightly less well-known; I could find only a few cursory reviews online, and none for this particular novel, which rather surprises me. It’s absolutely lyrical in places, beautifully written as a whole, and quite up to standard compared with other similar novels of its era. Perhaps its moods are a bit too troubled for happy reading? It’s not really a “literary” book, not quite a “popular” type novel, either, so maybe it falls unnoticed between those two camps.

I quite liked this novel, though it left me feeling rather melancholy. Not exactly a hidden gem, but a rewarding sort of discovery nonetheless.

I’d absolutely read another novel by Richard Church if it came into my hands. I’m now downright curious about his poetry, and his highly regarded three-volume autobiography. A name to add to my “look out for” list, though I don’t think I’ll expend a lot of effort deliberately tracking him down.

My rating: 6.5/10.

Are any of you familiar with this writer and his works?

 

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