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The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett (thoughts)

August 30, 2011

This slim book has been getting a lot of love around the blogosphere this month; in my feed reader, at least, it seems a popular selection for Frances’ Art of the Novella challenge. I actually first heard about Jewett in 2007, when Imani (a book blogger back then who has since stopped blogging) ran an Outmoded Authors challenge, focused on authors who used to be very popular but were now rather obscure. I popped her on my long potential list, and even acquired a copy of The Country of Pointed Firs and Other Stories from Bookmooch, but I never got around to actually cracking open the cover. Obviously, I didn’t realise what a treat I had in store for me!

I loved every moment of this book; it reminded me of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (brief snippets small-town life with an emphasis on women), Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (episodic structure with an oceanside summer setting), and even a bit of L.M. Montgomery’s writing (the deep reverence for nature and little joys). A woman writer arrives at a small fishing village on the coasts of Maine, a generation after the whaling industry has begun to shrink, and rents a cottage. She proceeds to meet a variety of people who share touching or funny or fascinating stories from their life with her, which she writes down. While there’s not much a plot in evidence, I still found the book to be cohesive, united around perhaps a theme of nostalgia and the inevitabilty of changes. But mainly, I just loved spending time with Jewett and the characters she creates (drawn, I’m sure, from her own life experiences): there’s a gentleness to the text, despite its willingness to look at the difficult sides of life, that let me completely relax and get drawn into a vanished world. I cannot wait to read more of her works (several of which I’ve popped onto Athie via, and I’d highly, highly recommend her to anyone looking for a new comfort read, more American classic authors, or seafaring life from a different angle.

21 Comments leave one →
  1. August 30, 2011 7:58 am

    I have loved Jewett’s stories for years and was able to visit her family home in South Berwick, Maine, near the New Hampshire border. I don’t know whether it is included in Country of the Pointed Firs, but look for a story called The Queen’s Twin.

    • September 1, 2011 1:08 pm

      Thnx for the rec! Jealous you got to visit her home. :)

  2. August 30, 2011 9:25 am

    You had me at “Cranford”. On to the wishlist it goes!

  3. August 30, 2011 9:38 am

    For some reason your description reminded me of The Shipping News by Annie Proulx. Setting and time frame are far apart but I think it’s the way water and people play a part in the story that brought back the memory. I’ll have to see if my library has a copy of this one.

    • September 1, 2011 1:08 pm

      Hmmm…I’ve seen the film but not read the book. Based on what I remember of movie, this is way lighter and more life-affirming. ;)

  4. August 30, 2011 10:31 am

    I glad you enjoyed this one – thought you would have read it tho (with your huge reading list), but glad you found it not too late. You’re right – it is quite Gaskell-y in places…

  5. August 30, 2011 10:38 am

    Oh, I loved this one! I’m so glad that the challenge introduced me to it, because I’d never heard of Sarah Orne Jewett before.

  6. August 30, 2011 10:39 am

    I luv this author and this book. Read this book years ago. Need to really, really reread it. Thanx for a great review and reminding me of a forgotten jewel.

  7. August 30, 2011 10:40 am

    Wow, this sounds really well done. I’ve never read her work but it seems like something I need to check out. Thanks for the beautiful, enthusiastic review. :O)

  8. August 30, 2011 11:24 am

    I’m heading for the library for this book–thanks! As a contemporary writer, I think it’s also illuminating to hear “whaling” and not think of fishermen, but to think of it as an industry, as you say–in a way, the precursor of our current oil corporations with all their evil power….

    • September 1, 2011 1:09 pm

      I’ve read a few books about whaling, so I definitely think of it as an evil industry! ;)

  9. August 30, 2011 12:27 pm

    sounds kinda like the The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to me.

    • September 1, 2011 1:10 pm

      I haven’t read that one, but I imagine it has a more focused plot and characters than the Jewett.

  10. August 30, 2011 8:12 pm

    Totally agree with you about the Cranford similarity! I re-read The Country of the Pointed Firs last summer and read Cranford for the first time also last summer, and the similarity was impossible not to notice. I also read The Summer Book last year and see that similarity as well – both fill me with warmth and a deep desire to see the ocean.

  11. August 31, 2011 4:24 am

    I think my copy dates from Imani’s challenge, too! I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, not least because of the connection between Jewett and Willa Cather, my current author obsession. Lovely review, Eva, and you remind me to get a move on with it!

    • September 1, 2011 1:11 pm

      Don’t you miss Imani? And she disappeared so long ago, not many bloggers are still around from back then!

  12. August 31, 2011 9:13 am

    Sounds like a nice one. I have not read anything by the author, but now I think I will check out her work.

  13. September 1, 2011 4:49 am

    Looks like my type of book

  14. September 1, 2011 5:24 pm

    Thank you for this recommendation. I’ve read a few short stories by Jewett that I enjoyed – they have colorful characters that are human and vibrant. She can show the poverty of a New England poorhouse, and the people who make peace with their lives in it, and never pities any of her characters; she writes them with such care… an underrated author. The short stories I’ve most enjoyed so far are “The Flight of Betsey Lane” and “White Heron”.

  15. September 1, 2011 7:31 pm

    I’ve always meant to read Jewett. Thanks for the nudge.

  16. September 4, 2011 4:22 pm

    As much as I fear “classics,” I must say this sounds wonderful!

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