An Episode of Sparrows

Kirsty Gunn - Rumer Godden, An Episode of Sparrows (1956)

Rumer Godden’ s books are about making things – houses, gardens, joined-up experiences that become single memories of a season or a time – and An Episode of Sparrows might be one of any of her books, for children or adults, that we could recognise for its particular print upon the world. It is about a cross-section of London streets and a space in the middle that becomes a creative space, where different people from different backgrounds conjoin and come to understand each other. It is about class and change and London and about growing plants from seeds. But more than anything, like all her books, the book itself is not only about making things, it is about its own making. So the words being written down as the story are the same words that are being regarded, measured and revised by the author; she knows the story in advance, maybe, but she experiences it in the real time of our reading. So she self-interrupts, uses ellipses and hyphens and half sentences of dialogue when she’s cut in on her characters’ speech half way through their saying it, or thinking it. People will say Rumer Godden is sentimental and out of date, but I don’t care how sentimental or out of date the content of any novel is - I can take as many kittens and orphans that you throw at me – as long as the form of the work is original and impeccably exercised in beautiful sentences that give language the quality of music. An Episode of Sparrows may seem to be a traditional old fashioned novel – but look within the paragraphs to see the gorgeous present tense’ness of the writing. Everything hangs and balances and lifts off the page.

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