The Bird in the Tree

One of the best things about holidays is getting to sit down, in the middle of the week and during the day, and indulge in a good book without feeling that one ought to be doing something else. For my holiday reading this year, I bought (or, rather, my parents kindly bought for me) Elizabeth Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy. I’d loved reading The Dean’s Watch earlier this year, and although I didn’t love A City of Bells in the same way, I was still keen to delve further into Goudge’s corpus.

The Bird in the Tree is the first of the Eliot trilogy. Of course, I can’t make a judgement about the trilogy as a whole until I read the next two books, but The Bird in the Tree was a delight–a rather sober delight, but a delight nonetheless. Goudge excels at making you love her characters. None of her main characters are perfect–who is, after all?–but you love them all the same, and understand (even when you can’t condone) their flaws. And isn’t that how we should try to look at people anyway?

One of the things I love about Goudge, both in the way she paints her characters and in the way she paints her world, is that while she doesn’t pretend that sadness and wrong don’t exist, she doesn’t let such things become the predominant flavour of her writing. She’s full of insights about life, too (such as this: “… what is given to you you are always afraid will one day cease to be given but what you give you can give forever. Life had taught her that at long last” ), but insights that are so much a part of the story that they don’t feel preachy.

The Bird in the Tree has, on first sight, a fairly typical storyline: meet David and Nadine, two young people who fall in love, and whose family try to prevent what they consider to be a most unsuitable match. But true love will win, won’t it?

Well, it depends on your definition of love.

The Bird in the Tree is a powerful presentation of the struggle between passionate romance on the one hand, and duty and self-sacrifice on the other. I don’t want to spoil the plot for you any more than I have already (I’d like you to read it, after all), so let me leave you with a final quote from Lucilla:

“Creative love meant building up by quantities of small actions a habit of service that might become at last a habit of mind and feeling as well as of body. I tried, and I found it did work out like that. Feeling can be compelled by action not quite as easily as action by feeling, but far more lastingly. You may not believe me, but it’s true.”

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