The Rosemary Tree // by Elizabeth Goudge

//published 1956//

I’m not sure how Goudge manages to make writing about everyday life, with virtually no drama, so entirely engrossing.  While The Rosemary Tree was not as thoroughly engaging as The Scent of Water (which remains one of the most magical books I have ever read), I was still completely drawn into the lives of the small group of people at the center of its story.

This is the story of a vicar named John, his wife Daphne, and their three little girls.  It is the story of John’s old nanny Harriet, and of John’s great aunt Maria, who still lives on the old estate and trying desperately to hold it together.  It is the story of Michael, a middle-aged man once full of promise but now learning to face his mistakes.  It is the story of a young Irish woman named Mary who teaches at a local school, and her coworker – an older and depressed woman – and the woman they work for: even older, and possibly even evil.  It’s the story of an elderly pig-keeper, of a monk, of the way different places make us feel.  It is a story of many strands of life coming together, of the way that life patterns weave us together, and of the great contentment that can come from understanding and accepting your place in it.  It is, in fact, a story of rosemary – of remembrance.

Like most of Goudge’s works, it is a gently religious story.  But Goudge’s characters rarely come to God quietly.  Instead, in a very human and realistic way, they rail against an all-powerful Being who doesn’t seem to greatly care about what is happening here. The honesty and poignancy of what Goudge has to say consistently blows my mind.  Everyone’s journey is different, and this isn’t the type of story where everyone comes to God and suddenly all their problems are miraculously cured.  Goudge has a knack for writing about human character, and our view of God, like no one else I’ve ever read.  She does it in such a way that I don’t hesitate to recommend her books to even those who are ambivalent towards religion – while religion is an important part of what she is writing, it never feels as though she is trying to convict or convert her readers.

Despite the fact that I should find Goudge’s writing quite boring – truly, nothing really happens in this book! – I could barely put it down.  I fell in love with every character in this book.  The story covers a few days where several lives intersect and impact one another, and it is done with an artist’s touch.  I even felt empathy and sorrow for the bad ones.  Goudge’s writing is such that characters I would despise in other stories – or real life! – somehow become more pitiful than anything, as the complete emptiness and pointlessness of their actions is revealed.

While I don’t feel the desperate urge to get this book into the hands of literally everyone, as I still do with The Scent of Water, this is still a worthwhile book.  Like Water, it is somehow refreshing and uplifting without being preachy.  Goudge is another author whose books I am slowly trying to find and read, and I’m happy to add this one to my permanent collection as I definitely see myself returning to it someday.