I’m especially drawn to stories published in my mother’s heyday, the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Reading them offers a real connection to her generation. An author she and her sisters adored was Rumer Godden. It took some effort getting a library copy of Godden’s 1945 tale, Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time, but it was worth it. I even made a few librarian friends in the process.
Post format: Blast from the Past
Every time I read a Godden book, I wonder why she’s not famous. This English author lived from 1907 to 1998 and wrote more than 60 books for adults and children. Nine of them were made into films, including Take Three Tenses. It was called Enchantment and starred David Niven.
Godden wrote about heavy subjects like sin, religion, war, love, even race relations. (She lived in India for a time.) One of my favorite books is her page-turning tale Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy about a prostitute and murderess who becomes a nun. The book’s premise is based on a religious community in France that includes former female prisoners.
The premise of Take Three Tenses is equally unique. The first character introduced isn’t even animate, it’s a house. Generations of one family have lived in the house. It has seen their celebrations, their tragedies and a doomed love affair. The 1945 novel opens in the present…World War II London. But Godden switches to the past and the future as well, hence the title regarding tenses. I’ve never read a book that jumped around in time so often and so deftly. Godden highlights the everyday happenings of the family as much as she does the momentous. Her writing is so good, you don’t care what she’s describing. In this passage, Lark, a young girl, ponders falling in love for the first time:
“Help me to keep my face, and my head. (Love) comes to everyone. I must remember that. It is a common experience…It is the commonest thing on earth. And it doesn’t always make you happy.”
BONUS BIT: This book wasn’t easy to find. My city’s online catalog showed a copy at the downtown branch. But it wasn’t on the shelf when I got there. Reference librarian Brenda Davis did some digging and discovered the book was marked lost in 1997. She saw my disappointment and offered a solution: an inter-library loan. She sent out a call to other libraries requesting a copy. Stetson University’s DuPont-Ball Library graciously sent theirs. Jessica Black is the inter-library loan specialist there. Thanks Brenda and Jessica!