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Island Magic Paperback – June 1, 2016
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The only criticism I have of the author, is that, as the daughter of a minister, and a lifelong single woman, she wrote with great depth and understanding and shading of her female characters, but the men always seem very one dimensional to me. This is just a very personal opinion. Someone else may feel that is not the case. I just always noticed that every single male character seems very flat and not as vivid as are all the female characters. But I still love the sense of magic, hope, description and the weaving spell around her books that lasts forever.
The descriptions of the island are so beautiful that I wept when I first read the novel. Re-reading it I am entranced by the poetical descriptions of places the author obviously knew so well when she visited her grandparents.
Into the lives of Andre, an unsuccessful farmer, and Rachell, who loves their farm Bon Repos and is determined that bankruptcy will not force them to leave it. Into their lives comes Ranulph, a shipe-wrecked traveller, rescued from a wreck at sea, who only intended to stay for a day and satisfy his longing to hear the familiar island patois. He lodges at Bon Repos causing Rachell and Andre’s lives to be ‘twisted by fate’.
I agree that “Elizabeth’s Goudge’s first novel, Island Magic, displays her remarkable ability to pour life and love into every one of her stories, gracing each character with endearing qualities that speak to our own lives.”
Island Magic has stood the test of time and is sure to please the most exacting readers.
(I have no problem with the paperback edition.)
On one side of her family, Elizabeth Goudge had ancestors from the Channel Islands.
Several of her books deal either with stories of the Islands, or events and characters among her ancestors.
This is Goudge's FIRST novel.
"Island Magic" is a splendid book.
The central narrative is about a young man, married, struggling as a farmer, who actually wants to be a writer.
His wife helps him, emotionally and in other ways, as much as she can.
She has great sensitivity, and an inherited second sense that verges on telepathy.
Their young children have adventures and imaginary games around the island townships, and landscapes, often haunted by a sense of fairyland traditions that are alive on the island. (Think of the Irish tradition of leprachauns, for example.) (There is a sequel of linked short stories about these children, "Make-Believe": a book for children, and not a serious addition to, or sequel for the events of "Island Magic". But most of the stories are true, as told to Goudge by elderly relatives from the island.)
During a terrible storm a ship sinks, but a strange, powerful, and dangerous man is rescued.
He becomes a third adult in the family: a Heathcliff-like charismatic rogue: a temptation to the young wife.
I will leave any interested reader to explore the riches of this book.
There is a happy ending. But there are terrible prices to be paid!
Very highly recommended.
Let me add the following detail, in case any of it helps.
Her first published novel, Island Magic, (published when she was 34) is based loosely on her maternal grandparents and her mother as a child and their life on Guernsey in the English Channel. All the elements that are typical of Goudge's writing can be seen in this first story. Intense observation of landscape, emotions that soar and plunge, references to earlier writers, such as Shakespeare, Keats, Browning and Hopkins, a narrative full of characters from a richly varied community, from domineering upper class society, down to the bitterly exploited working class.
At the heart of Island Magic are the du Frocqs, a tempestuous, loving family, celebrating seasons and festivals with riotous, joyful energy. Andre du Frocq is no farmer. Yet rather than give in to his domineering father, the self-opinionated island doctor, and become a doctor too, something his long-lost runaway older brother also refused to do, he struggles to run the farm, slowly exhausting his wife's dowry. After sixteen years of marriage, and farming, both against his father's wishes, Andre expects disaster for himself, Rachell, and their five surviving children. Gifted with "second sight" (an example of Goudge's sparing use of the supernatural), Rachell foresees salvation in the form of a shipwrecked, scar-faced man. Shortly after this a ship is wrecked on nearby jagged rocks, and a survivor brought ashore. Rachel recognises him from her vision. Yet who is he? What is his bond with the island? Can her marriage survive the love that flares between Rachell and this embittered stranger? What has Andre spent his time on secretly, distracted from his farmers chores? How can the farm be saved?
Stated this way, such narrative questions smack of crude "romance". But Island Magic is no mere cliched romance novel. Typically for Goudge, the du Frocq children play a significant part in the larger concerns of the adults. For Goudge, adults and children alike share the same driving hungers, and are equally close to the book's central moral issues such as the paradox of freedom and obedience (that we are most truly free when we accept or choose constraints tantamount to imprisonment), or the paradox of good and evil (that a wicked creature may be able to discern the paths through heaven that are hidden from the good people inside), or the paradox of Christian faith sitting comfortably beside ancient pagan belief (as does the church-going Islander's belief in the water fairies of their Island and their legend of their own fairy ancestors). Colin will be a sailor, with the freedom of the seas and the imprisonment of a ship's cabin. Jacqueline will find her independent self in the submission to holy orders as a nun. Michelle will be a great teacher, whose deep commitment to this world is shot through with Keat's mystical vision of another world. Yet through the book they squabble and lie and behave like typically boisterous annoying lovable children, in much the same way the adults squabble, lie and boister.
It is also typical of Goudge's writing that key events in the narrative are anticipated or easily predicted by the reader. Like Greek tragedies, whose plots are well-known to the audience, Goudge's novels do not hesitate to reveal what will happen. She does not write narrative thrillers, with unpredictable, twisting plots, although expected events often arrive in very surprising ways, or hinge on natural circumstance. What keeps us reading is Goudge's exploration of character, waiting to see how she will achieve the things we expect, gripped by the arguments and ideas that teem in the characters' minds, charmed by the passion with which the story unfolds to its hard-won satisfactory endings. Equally, she openly declares what her characters are thinking, and why they think this. The depth of her characters does not come from ambiguity, uncertainty or mystery, but from the clashing contradictions that contend within each individual, held in precarious balance, or unbalanced! Indeed, with a rich, leisurely direct presentation of character and action (not many actions, much detailed observation) her novels have the pastoral quality of the neglected novel Amaryllis at the Fair (1887) by Richard Jefferies, better known for his children's novel Bevis (1882).
Equally typical of Goudge, her characters in Island Magic are tormented by religious scruple or religious doubt, seeking forgiveness for guilt, or hoping for assurance and certainty, or resolving to accept faith despite terrifying doubts and suffering. Yet Goudge never preaches. These matters of religion arise from the characters and their setting, in the same way that Catholicism and love is a continual thread, sometimes an overt issue, in the novels of Graham Greene, or wickedness, suffering and atonement is the moral heart of Dostoevsky's work, or vast cosmic theologies underlie the novels for children and adults of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.
Within two hundred and fifty pages, many years, from past and future, are brought into the sharp focus of a year of present narrative time. Island Magic reaches back to the legendary fairy-tale past of the Island, and earlier to the first Christmas manger, touches on Andre's and his brother's childhood, and anticipates the adulthood of the du Frocq children. In other books, such as the "Torminster trilogy", whose central character is Henrietta, which comprises A City of Bells, Sister of the Angels, and Henrietta's House, and the "Damerosehay trilogy" comprising The Bird in the Tree, The Herb of Grace, and The Heart of the Family about the Eliot family, narratives and character unfold at greater leisure. In the length of book and concentration on the life and times of one character, Goudge's historical novels, especially The White Witch and The Child From the Sea rival those of Victor Hugo.
John Gough -- Deakin University -- JAGough49@gmail.com