The Herb of Grace (by Elizabeth Goudge)

After reading Elizabeth Goudge’s ‘The Bird in the Tree’ recently, it was time to enjoy its sequel again. This is a book I first read in my late teens, with no idea that there was a previous book, although I was aware of an untold backstory running through it. I loved the book then, and have enjoyed it more, probably, each time I have re-read it.

‘The Herb of Grace’ is the name of an inn not too far from Damerosehay, the old house belonging to the elderly Lucilla. Lucilla might be frail in body, but her will is as strong as ever, and her instinct tells her that her son George is not happy in London. George’s wife Nadine, whose thwarted love affair is sensitively covered in ‘A Bird in the Tree’, likes her smart and convenient London place, and has no thought of ever moving into the countryside. But the Herb of Grace is for sale, and Lucilla makes her plans.

Meanwhile George and Nadine’s five children - including the imaginative five-year-old twins Jerry and José - have met and befriended a young woman called Sally Adair, who lives with her talented artist father John. Sally has also met David, George’s nephew, and her father happens to have met Nadine on a train. Their stories are told separately, gently introducing people and situations, until - by John Adair’s determination - they find themselves in in the same place.

There’s another story involving the mysterious barge-travelling odd-job people Malony and Annie-Laurie, whose story gradually unfolds in the warmth of the family home. There are a lot of people in the book, who are much easier to understand if read as sequel to ‘A Bird in the Tree’. This novel certainly stands alone, but minor characters - Lucilla’s daughter Margaret and son Hilary - could be seen as almost irrelevant without knowing the background.

I vaguely remembered the storylines, in particular something dramatic and of great historical interest that is discovered by accident by the twins, but I had forgotten about many of the interactions between people, and the way each character develops imperceptibly, finding healing and wholeness in the welcoming atmosphere of the inn.

Elizabeth Goudge’s writing is full of poetic description, something I have often skimmed or even skipped in the past, but I made sure to slow down and savour her words, as she tells us about the countryside, the views, and the immense charm of the Herb of Grace. I almost felt myself there, and delayed reading the last chapter so that I could be part of this engaging community of people for a little while longer.

Definitely recommended. Widely available second-hand.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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