When my daughters and I found a used bookstore in an out of the way village, I picked up a few of Rumer Godden’s hardcovers. Now I wish I had gotten all of her titles!
“An Episode of Sparrows” is just one episode in the aftermath of the London bombing from the life of a young child, Lovejoy Mason, that will eventually have a huge impact upon Olivia, an older woman living in her sister Angela’s shadow. If put in simple terms, this novel is about Lovejoy’s wish to have a garden of her own, but this novel is anything but simple. Drawing the reader into the everyday lives of London characters, “An Episode of Sparrows” examines human pretensions, survival, resilience, law and order and what constitutes real compassion versus true justice, and whether we are going to live as an ‘Angela’ or an ‘Olivia’.
Lovejoy comes across a packet of seeds, and her imagination is sparked.
“I want a garden,” said Lovejoy. If she had wanted the moon or a diamond tiara it would have been as easy to get in Catford Street.”
Aided by Tip Malone, a street gang boy, she finds a small place behind a bombed church that is almost inacessible to the public and totally private. But how to get the necessary materials, a spade (small trowel), a digging fork, and seeds? Because Lovejoy for all intents and purposes seems to have been abandoned by her mother and given into the care of her landlady, Mrs. Combie.
“It was queer to think of people in Catford Street owning gardens. Lovejoy had lived there all these years but she had not seen what she saw now, the flowers – but they must always have been there, thought Lovejoy. Now, in almost every window, she saw pots with plants growing in them; pots of red and pink flowers, of yellow ones, daffodils – she knew them – and hyacinths, as well as green things, ferns, palms, rubber plants; Sparkey’s mother grew fuschsias in her flat window.”
Growing up in the streets of London has, if nothing else, made Lovejoy resilient, tough and creative. With Tip to help her and Sparkey, a small hero-worshipper of Tip’s, Lovejoy begins the difficult task of fulfilling her dream.
What a poignant story. I wanted to take Lovejoy in, give her new dresses and shoes and a new coat (she has grown out of her clothes and the written pleas to her absent mother garner no help). I wanted to give Lovejoy’s mother a good scolding (at the very least), and buy a gardening apron, tools and flats of pansies for Lovejoy. I wanted to send customers to Vincent’s restaurant. Vincent who is kind to Lovejoy and takes her for Sunday walks, is struggling and fighting his own battles to subsidize his restaurant. I wanted to encourage Olivia to stand up to her (bossy) sister Angela, and I wanted to slap Cassie!
“It’s not old fashioned to say God is good. Remember, not one sparrow can fall to the ground –“
“But they fall all the time,” said Olivia. “We knock them down. We knock them, crush them – carelessly or carefully, it doesn’t matter which, and they fall. That’s what humans do to humans, so don’t talk to me about God.”
I had initially read “Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Godden and enjoyed it but it didn’t have the impact this book had.