Friday, March 4, 2011

The Fountain Overflows

I have read some Rebecca West- her New Yorker articles about the Nuremberg trials; Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (about Yugoslavia); and the Meaning of Treason. Somewhere in the latter a play is lurking, I just haven’t been able to find it yet. Other than that, I knew about her affair with H.G. Wells, and not much else.

But a few months ago I stumbled upon the first of her novels in the Aubrey trilogy, The Fountain Overflows. I read it over my vacation and it was incredibly compelling. It’s about a family named Aubrey, not plot heavy, but much incident. The family is loosely based on West’s own (her name was Cicely Isabel Fairfield). The mother is a former concert pianist, the father is a gambling intellectual, who manages to repel his peers, despite his great charm. The four children are Cordelia, the twins Mary and Rose (who narrates the novel) and their brother Richard Quinn. West captures the relationships been each parent and child, and the children amongst themselves, equally well. It didn’t matter to me that Rose was a child, and then a teenager, and the novel was all from her point of view. She’s a smart little girl- good at sizing up her peers, particularly her older sister. The children aren’t undone by their parents’ precarious finances- it’s nothing new, they’ve grown used to it. And West captures that delightful, child-like forthrightness that an intelligent child emits.

The novel is available in a reprint edition from New York Review Books.

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