My GoodReads’ Star Rating: 5 stars out of 5, which means: It was amazing!
Artuccino’s bookish observation
The words that came to mind while listening to this audiobook were: wonderful and beautiful. Why wonderful? Why beautiful?
I’ve learned when making broad, one or two word statements, the writer announcing their view must not let their reader down, they must follow their statement with an explanation, particularly if the writer is a book blogger. The reader will need to know the “why” of the blogger’s reading experience.
So, why wonderful?
The book tells the fictional story of an elderly woman, of eighty eight years, set in London in around 1930. A woman who leads a privileged life and whose now departed husband had been the Viceroy of India and a British high ranking politician. Although she lived the life of a pampered Edwardian lady, she was pretending to be all the things everyone expected. She did all this with grace and fortitude. Her life had been all about her husband’s ambitions and her children’s needs. She did her duty.
Her experience followed the path of a famous saying: “I dreamed I dreamt that life was beauty. I awoke and found that life was duty.” I believe the quote is the core of the story. There was more to it though. When duty was done, the main character, Lady Slane was able to say “enough is enough” and proceeded to remove herself from her dutiful life and set herself up in an apartment in Hampstead to reflect and to enjoy “quiet”. Enjoy solitude. To enjoy freedom. She included in her new life her delightful and endearing elderly French maid, Genoux, along with a limited number of people who newly came into her life, people who spoke the truth and were philosophical about life and nature. The story is wonderful because it’s about love. Not romantic love, it’s about the love of one’s own heart, the love of quiet freedom. That is why I think the story is wonderful.
Why I think the story is beautiful.
I enjoyed this story on many levels. Most importantly the narrator and her presentation enhanced the story. The rolling of her “R’s” in the British way made me smile. The narrator, Dame Wendy Hiller, is not a person who I know anything about, but oh, is she good at narrating this story. Her voice is absolutely spot on, putting the listener into the mind of Lady Slane and allowing access to her beautiful mind and her beautiful thoughts. I’d say that’s what made the story sing to me.
And there’s something else. The author, Vita Sackville-West wrote this in the early 20th century, her writing displays a deep understanding of how an intelligent woman thinks and dreams. Her turn of phrase makes her writing accessible to the 21st century reader. Vita Sackville-West wrote cleanly without too much flourish, without density. She said enough and shared enough to make the prose beautiful.
I guess you can tell by my blog post that I found this book wonderful, and beautiful at the same time.
A little about the author
Vita Sackville-West, died 1962, was an English author and garden designer. She was a successful novelist, poet, and journalist, as well as a prolific letter writer and diarist. She published more than a dozen collections of poetry during her lifetime and 13 novels. She was twice awarded the Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature: in 1927 for her pastoral epic, The Land, and in 1933 for her Collected Poems. She was the inspiration for the androgynous protagonist of Orlando: A Biography, by her famous friend and lover, Virginia Woolf. She had a longstanding column in The Observer (1946–1961) and is remembered for the celebrated garden at Sissinghurst created with her husband, Sir Harold Nicolson. 1
A little about the audio narrator
Dame Wendy Margaret Hiller, died 2003. She was an English film and stage actress, who enjoyed a varied acting career that spanned nearly sixty years. Despite many notable film performances, winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1958, she chose to remain primarily a stage actress. 2
Genre – Fiction
Classic, Literary Fiction