Book Group. First meeting is in a week’s time but I only picked up the book – The Golden Age by Joan London –  a few days ago. I was relieved when I saw that it wasn’t a tome – a neat 240 pages – because those long books are hard work if you don’t get into them. But I did.  I read it yesterday, almost without stopping.  Off to a good start.

The reviews focus on the relationship between to two young polio ‘victims’, Frank and Elsa, as if that’s what the book is about. But it’s not, really. There are other characters and other relationships, and they are all connected, delicately, intricately. Even when the connections are not central to the narrative – spun off to the side, so to speak, like that of Nurse Olive Penney and her daughter or Susan’s social climbing parents – they’ve got weight and meaning. They stick with the reader. A beautiful, grave, moving story about so many things – loss and grief, illness and death, war and peace, youth and maturity…

Here is Margaret, Elsa’s mother, in her garden:

She lay down in the grass and the moon went higher. The stars tumbled across the black bowl of the sky and the grasses rustled about her. She heard the shiftings of tiny creatures in the earth and the drone of midges. Everything was in motion. Minute by minute the garden was reverting to wildness. She felt she was lying on the heart of a great animal. it was asking for her trust. All she could do was trust.
Somewhere, a long time ago, she’d found this out, and then forgotten. Making soup, washing nappies, she had turned her back on the springs of life. Never again would she do this, never, ever! If Elsa lived…

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