30/01/2011

Two-part Invention (by Madeleine L'Engle)

I find myself having a growing affection for Madeleine L'Engle's books. I only got around to reading her classic children's 'Wrinkle in Time' series about fifteen years ago, and did not discover her non-fiction writing at all until relatively recently.

I was interested to find that she wrote a four-part autobiographical series, the 'Crosswicks Journal', based on her musings about life and faith while staying in her family home . I read the first in the series, 'A Circle of Quiet', last summer, and borrowed from a friend its sequel, 'The Summer of the Great-Grandmother', which I read in the Autumn.

My son had the fourth book, 'Two-part Invention' on his shelves, so I decided that as each book is complete in itself, I would read that next. Somehow, though, I kept picking up other books with the result that it took me two months to complete it. It didn't matter. Madeline L'Engle writes in a friendly, personal style that makes me feel almost as if I know her. Picking up one of her non-fiction books even after a gap of a few weeks feels almost like catching up with a friend who's been away for a while.

In this volume, she describes her first meeting with her beloved husband Hugh, when they were both working in the theatre. There are fascinating anecdotes about life as actors, and her general lack of boyfriends; the way she didn't quite 'belong' with the lifestyle of the famous and glitzy, and the gentle courtship that evolved when she and Hugh discovered that they had a great deal in common.

The book then tells of significant periods in their forty-year marriage, with high and low points as they raised children, moved to the country, and as her books started to sell. The book continues right up to the time when - as we know from the start is going to happen - Hugh loses his fight with cancer following some difficult and painful months.

I love the rather rambling style of these books: the regular digressions into other topics, and also the way that we're allowed so much insight into this very special relationship. In places it's quite moving, despite knowing all along what the ending would be.

Madeleine L'Engle talks frankly about her faith in places, without being the least bit pushy or preachy; she struggles with many questions, and rejects some of the traditional Christian viewpoints while seeking God and finding him her anchor in the most difficult patches.

She also talks about music; about how playing the piano helps her to relax, and re-focus, and begin to find healing and wholeness. The title of the book is from a piece by Bach.

Recommended to anyone who's read others in the Crosswicks series, or who likes fairly unstructured autobiographical writing. Still in print on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 30th January 2011

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