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The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift (thoughts)

February 22, 2012


I first heard about The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift ages ago on Litlove’s blog, but it was Claire’s recent reference to it that had me trotting off to my library’s catalogue to place it on hold. And I’m very glad that I did, for it’s a rich, touching, wonderful book about far more than gardening. A garden is at the heart of this memoir, though: the very extensive gardens that Swift began creating in 1988 when she moved to the National Trust property of Morville Hall. Before becoming a gardener, she was a rare books librarian, and her bookishness wonderfully pervades her writing. The book is structured around a medieval book of hours, with each chapter headed by the appropriate hours, as well as moving throughout the year. While I imagine it was a bit complicated to write, it reads beautifully. Swift has an incredible talent for bringing a place to life; the first chapter had me shivering in the cold and dark of an English January while later ones brought out the magic of spring and long, hot days of summer. Her love for the natural world just shines through, and her learning allows her to skip from topic to topic with an ease that’s wonderful to behold. While obviously intelligent, her writing is never detached; she brings enough emotion and honesty to the book that I felt like I really got to know her. And her self-reflection encouraged a similar feeling of contemplation in myself.

I’m not expressing myself properly, but this is a book that deeply moved me, one that I’d love to have a copy of for my own shelves. I highly recommend it to all kinds of readers, but especially those who share my soft spot for memoirs by intelligent older women with a deep reverence for nature.

Suggested Companion Reads

  • An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor (Another inspiring memoir by a middle-aged woman with a strong connection to nature and spirituality.)
  • Among Flowers by Jamaica Kincaid (I never blogged about this, but it’s a fascinating travelogue of Kincaid, an enthusiastic gardener, and her botany-oriented trip to Nepal. Kincaid’s brutually honest and self-confident style isn’t for everyone, and her brash tone is certainly different from Swift’s, but I at least find them both valuable. Those looking for a lower key, plant-focused travelogue might have better luck with Oliver Sack’s Oaxaca Journal, from the same publisher.)
  • Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (I think it’s The Morville Hours‘ combination of country life and formal religion that put me in mind of Trollope, especially his Barchester series!)
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11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012 9:35 am

    I am so pleased to hear you enjoyed this! I am really looking forward to reading it, hopefully soon.

  2. February 22, 2012 10:29 am

    I want! :)

  3. February 22, 2012 10:39 am

    Sounds wonderful! I just put a hold on the only copy our library system has. :)

  4. February 22, 2012 6:51 pm

    Sounds like something I’d like!

  5. February 23, 2012 9:32 am

    I loved this book when I read it so of course I am glad to see you loved it so much too.

  6. February 24, 2012 3:06 am

    I’m SO glad you enjoyed it. I think it’s a special book – genuinely calming and uplifting.

  7. February 26, 2012 12:03 am

    I have The Morville Hours – I’ve just wanted some quiet time to read it, and never seem to get it. Your review reminds me that now is a good time! Have to make some around the science fiction blitz I’ve been having lately. I’m so happy you loved it so much. She has a sequel out now, by the way: The Morville Year.

  8. Jenny permalink
    February 27, 2012 12:30 pm

    I read this just in December and adored it — one of my best books of 2011. I’m so glad you liked it! I think it’s one to re-read, actually, and would suit dipping in and out of just for the pleasure of the exquisite writing.

  9. Janine permalink
    February 28, 2012 9:51 pm

    I read The Morville Hours in January and loved it. Am planning on visiting the garden in April when I am in England.

  10. February 15, 2013 5:02 pm

    I was interested to read your thoughts on The Morville Hours, as I am reading this book at the moment and absolutely love it. It speaks to me on many levels.
    Wishing you better health in 2013. :)

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  1. From the Ground Up by Amy Stewart (thoughts) « A Striped Armchair

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