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The Love Child by Edith Olivier (thoughts)

October 19, 2011


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! ;)

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2011 2:56 pm

    Oooh, this sounds wonderful. I feel like I’ve been collecting and reading about Virago books forever and there are still ones like this that I’ve never heard of. Straight onto the wishlist it goes. :-)

  2. October 19, 2011 3:01 pm

    Sounds good and I have never heard of it before! Will have to check it out. :)

  3. October 19, 2011 3:28 pm

    Ooh, you had me at “aspiring spinster.” Sounds like this book really delighted you! I’m glad.

  4. October 19, 2011 4:00 pm

    I find that I, like you, have a gard time writing posts about books I really adore. I’ve got to find a way to better find my feelings on books I love. This was a fabulous review, though. :O)

  5. October 19, 2011 8:37 pm

    Oh dear, oh dear. This sounds totally cool but I can only read it in the library where I have to sit and read it there. LIKE ALL THE BOOKS I WANT.

  6. October 20, 2011 6:09 am

    Oh, there can be few more wonderful pleasures than someone adoring a book you recommend! And that pleasure is all the more delightful when it’s one of my favourite bloggers – and hot on the heels of Rachel writing about The Love Child too.

    I found this book completely by accident, for 80p in a charity shop, and started it immediately afterwards… and then raced through it, and have re-read it three or four times since. I love the progression of their relationship, and the atmosphere Olivier weaves of gentle melancholy alongside imagination and love, and the ways in which bonds can be tested. It’s magical, and somehow realistic too.

    You’ve made my day, Eva!

  7. October 21, 2011 9:26 am

    My your comments I have a feeling is somewhere between fantasy and magical realism – I’m sold! Raving reviews are always the hardest to write. And short ones are even more of a challenge :)

  8. October 21, 2011 11:28 am

    It sounds like this book was written for me! I’m going to see if my library has it.

    I had no idea you were an aspiring spinster. ;-)

  9. October 21, 2011 3:18 pm

    For want of a better word, it just sounds charming. I wouldn’t hesitate to read this one.

  10. October 21, 2011 11:42 pm

    You have intrigued me so much that I skipped over your brief description so that if I do get a chance to read it I can be a tabula rasa reader as well and discover the delights for myself. Usually, I like to know a little bit about what I am getting into but I will take a chance with this one.

  11. October 25, 2011 11:03 am

    Love that “aspiring spinster”!

  12. October 27, 2011 10:20 am

    I’ve read 2 books on Simon T’s recommendation and have loved both so naturally I’ll be taking note of this one.

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