The Love Child by Edith Olivier (thoughts)
The Love Child by Edith Olivier is an odd, delightful little book. A mixture of the fey and bittersweet, the story truly touched me, and I feel indebted to Simon T for the recommendation. I hesitate to tell you anything about the story, because as a tabula rasa reader I came in not knowing anything and was thus doubly delighted by what I found. If you’re like me, rest assured that Olivier creates wonderful characters and explores the love and tensions of the love between an adult woman and girl child who must, inevitably, grow up. As someone who is very close to my own mother, and as an aspiring spinster, I would have connected with the book for this alone. The emphasis on imagination, and how a fanciful, open mind can lead to more happiness, touched a chord in me as well. There is also Oliver’s graceful writing: she sketches her backgrounds with a light but deft hand, all the time focussing on the emotions of her two main characters, who are unforgettably drawn. The whole book has a beautiful, melancholic feel to it that still left me somehow uplifted as I turned the final page.
Now, in case you enjoy knowing a few more details about a book before you read it, let me tell you what made it so magical. Agatha is a middle-aged recluse who, in the aftermath of her mother’s death and funeral, tries to cope by recapturing the childhood happiness of her imaginary best friend, Clarissa. At first, Agatha feels ridiculous, but soon she captures the old spirit, and as her belief in Clarissa becomes stronger, Clarissa herself seems to become more real. In fact, soon other people can see-and touch-Clarissa (who is a child, around the age of nine or ten) and for all intents and purposes, she has apparently been born out of Agatha’s imagination. The way that Oliver depicts these events, all of the joy and fear and confusion and love Agatha experiences as Clarissa comes into being, is just exquisite. I was completely drawn in, and by the time Clarissa achieved full existence, I believed it utterly. I had imagined this was going to be a ‘realistic’ novel set in the 1920s, so I didn’t go in predisposed to accept some of kind of fey, changeling character; the book just won me over.
As with all of the books I adore, I find it frustrating to try to fit all of my praise into a shorter post. But I hope I’ve convinced at least a few of you to try to find it (it’s out of print, but I easily received it through interlibrary loan). As for me, I’ll definitely be reading more of Olivier. And I’ll obviously have to start requesting more of Simon T.’s recommendations! ;)
Suggested Companion Reads
- The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery (While far happier and more conventional, I think this has a similar sense of fairy tale and love of the imagination.)
- The Translator by Leila Aboulela (Another story feauturing a heroine whose life is circumscribed and quiet, elegant prose.)
- The Stolen Child by Keith Donahue (This novel presents fantastical elements in a realistic way and also looks at unusual children.)