112 of 114 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2011
This is one of my favorite print books. I've read it many times in the last 40 years or so. I'm very happy to have it available for the kindle (along with the sequels, This Real Night and Cousin Rosamund.) Plot - a delightful lively family is living in London at the turn (or so ) of the century. The mother is a famous pianist, retired, teaching her two daughters the piano. Her eldest daughter is not a musician but mistakenly works hard at her violin. Then a shocking murder affects their lives. The characterizations, from Piers the father to Clare the mother to Kate the cook-general is so well done. highly recommended!
52 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2003
I had heard of author Rebecca West, mainly as the young woman who had a long term affair with a much older H.G. Wells and produced a child out of wedlock, back when things like this were considered shocking. I stumbled across a copy of this book and decided it might make an interesting read.
I never imagined that I had found a true classic, a book that uses the English language to a degree unsurpassed by any other author I have ever read. The story of is simple, that of a down on their luck family, living in London during the early 1900's. Their trials and tribulations are faithfully described, as are the multitude of characters they befriend. Actually to describe the plot, one might assume that not much really happens and to be honest, the plot is not the main attribute of this novel. But the language! I have often thought that I would some day like to write a novel but after reading this book, I would not even attempt it! This is how language should be used...clear and concise but also able to convey atmosphere and emotions. Page after page of luscious words, all combining together to create an unforgettable reading experience. If, like me, you wanted to read more, please note that the sequel, This Real Night is almost as good. A third book, Cousin Rosamund is much weaker since it was not completed at the time of the author's death.
Please do yourself a favor and read this book. I think this ranks with Pride and Prejudice and Wuthering Heights as books which define the best that the English language can offer.
37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Rebecca West's THE FOUNTAIN OVERFLOWS, published in 1956, is one of the last great British modernist novels. Usually overlooked on modernism course syllabi in favor of West's shorter (but not as profound) THE RETURN OF THE SOLDIER, THE FOUNTAIN OVERFLOWS is an exceptionally funny and evocative portrait of a shabby-genteel family of thinkers and artists at the turn of the century in a London suburb. The narrator, Rose Aubrey, and her twin sister Mary are young pianists; like their younger brother, the adored and otherwordly Richard Quin, a flautist, they are encouraged by their nervous and kindly mother, herself an accomplished musician in her youth. (The musical inadequacies of the eldest daughter, Cordelia, form the longest running joke in the novel--and eventually its greatest emotional payoff.) They live practically hand-to-mouth given their unending state of destitution wrought upon them by their handsome and mercurial father, who loves his family but cannot provide a stable life for them. Yet despite their poverty the family's life is never shown to be anything less than magical, given the gifts and talents the parents have for seeing the world always as a wondrous place. This sense of the ordinary transformed into the extraordinary, the book's great theme, is mirrored both in West's gorgeously descriptive prose and in the family's regular encounters with the supernatural: ghosts, telepathy, and poltergeists play important parts in the novel. The novel is episodic, in the way of its comic antecedents, such as Fielding, early Dickens, and Elizabeth Gaskell's CRANFORD. Still, West's sense of a strong narrative to the family's fortunes keeps you in narrative suspense nonetheless: as you read it you cannot wait to see what happens to the family next.
36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2000
I have been reading, reading, reading for fifty plus years. Oddly I don't dream about books, but this one was an exception. The character Cordelia came to haunt my sleep, lively and unforgettable. A vidid, surprising, unpredictable, eccentric, and thoroughly original work. Seek it out.
29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 6, 1999
This is my very favorite book in the world, and Rebecca West never did quite so well again. An astonishing cast of characters, seen with a child's sensitivity and belief in the magical in everyday life. The only thing better than the family members are the minor characters: Mr. Morpurgo, Nancy and her aunt, Cordelia's violin teacher.This book acknowledges the complexities of all human beings.A father who makes his children elaborate individual dollhouses and tells them stories about them, but gambles away all their money and abandons them, a mother who appears half-cracked to casual acquaintances but is a gifted pianist and the one who holds her family together and provides a haven for the huge cast of fascinating strangers who cross her path, battered by life. An enormously likable child narrator, but the mother is the true heroine of this story, and how often does that happen?
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2005
The header says it all. If pressed, I will have to admit that this is my absolute favorite novel of all time. There is something so haunting and so human and so memorable about this book, I can't stay away from it--I must have read it 20 times, and I never grow tired of it.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2003
About two pages into this I realized I'd come across a sublimely intelligent and aware narrative voice -- that of a 12-yr-old girl in turn-of-the-century London -- and from that point on I read the rest of the novel in a page-turning fever of delight and pleasure. A fictionalized account of Rebecca West's real family, the story follows the lives of the narrator, Rose Aubrey and her twin sister Mary (both of whom are prodigies on the piano), their older sister Cordelia, who apparently stinks at the piano, but doesn't realize it (much to the chagrine of the rest of the family), their thoroughly unflappable and adored younger brother, Richard, a flautist, and their ragged, heroic mother who tries to keep the family above water while the father, a brilliant essayist and pamphleteer who is completely lacking in all matters of practicality, loses one job after another. It's a brilliant cast brought unforgettably to life by West's flawless prose and the intelligence, generosity, imagination and wit poured into it. When you close the book, you feel as if you had just remembered moments from a real family you'd known while growing up, but who you lost touch with because your family moved away. Truly wonderful. Please, if you love beautiful things, read this.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2010
I had some difficulty getting into this book. Although not strictly autobiographical, West has based the characters on her family. The story revolves around the fortunes of the Aubrey family. The narrator is Rose, one of the four children of Piers, a small time newspaper editor and pamphleteer, and Clare, formerly a concert pianist who gave up her career upon marriage. Rose struck me at first as another example of the peculiarly British fictional character, the very precocious child who patronizes and condescends to the adults around her. But as I continued, I began to realize that West had created Rose with an adult eye so that she could describe their failings and weaknesses of the others while at the same time loving them with a child's unquestioning love. She describes her father with the words "sneering" and "swaggering", while expressing her adoration. The mother is so sensitive that hearing music performed by one who is not gifted makes her physically ill and yet she is the strength in the family, holding them together through poverty and disappointment. I gradually became fond of them all and fascinated by their lives. My biggest disappointment was the ending, which ends abruptly, almost as if the narrator suddenly put her pen down and had no chance to continue.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 1997
This first volume of West's semi-autobiographical trilogy, "Cousin Rosamond," is a beautifully detailed picture of turn-of-the-century London life as seen through the eyes of Rose, a gifted young pianist in an artistically talented but impoverished family. A wonderful read; you'll even want to explore the books that the family reads and loves, and hear the compositions that they play. It's funny and tragic, sensuous and magical.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2007
This was my first encounter with Dame Rebecca West's writing, but it won't be my last. Nearly every paragraph stood alone, as a description to savor or an emotion remarkably described. The characters linger long after the book is closed. I believe that someone has suggested that they are somewhat Dickensian, with which I would agree. The plot conveys to the reader a deep understanding of the frustrations encountered by women whose lives are held in thrall by men who are indifferent to their wellbeing.
The only thing that keeps this book from being 5-stars in my mind are occasional spots where you want it to move more quickly. Its subtlety and richness make it a book well worth revisiting.
A general comment about the Classics series of the New York Review of Books. I am particularly pleased to have discovered this series for two reasons. First, because of the beauty of the books themselves; the cover art is of a very high quality and the paper, printing and binding is as well. The books themselves are pleasurable to experience. Second, the series is introducing me to literature that I would otherwise have never read. I just finished "A High Wind in Jamaica," have begun "Indian Summer" by William Dean Howells (and my middle-school introduction to "The Rise of Silas Lapham" would have predicted that I would never have picked up a book by Howells again, which would have been my loss - I might even tackle Silas Lapham again), and have ordered a few more. I recommend that readers explore some of these treasures.