It happened again. Book hangover, I mean, the second one in one week, and it’s leaving me itchy. The first book hangover of the week, I covered here. As I’d hoped, Fair Day, and Another Step Begun, arrived on my doorstep in short order, and I tore into the packaging, eager to get my next hit. My fingers tingled at the firm feel of the book inside the envelope, because this was a nice, sturdy hardcover, ready to withstand the many re-readings I’d already planned for it, starting with this one. I tore open the envelope.
Surprise: there is more than one cover. Blink. Blink.
Cover with the red text is the one I had borrowed from that long-ago library. Cover with white text is the cover I now own. Yes, I do have plans to acquire the red text cover, and no, I am not giving up the copy I actually have (though I may lend it) because it is my copy, a gift from a dear friend, and one will pry that copy out of my cold, dead hand. Skye will link to my Goodreads review on Friday, so I’ll focus more on the book hangover side of things here.
This book. Oh man, this book. I’d remembered it as being written in first person, which was not the case -it’s third- and we don’t get to see Ellen fall in love with John Waters, (Not the filmmaker. Seriously, not the filmmaker.) but that’s okay, because it’s a fable. Things happen in a fable, and we don’t need to know why; they merely are. That fits this book, because it, too, is a fable.
I’ve always loved stories that meld the now with the long-ago, so a then-contemporary (1970s) retelling of an old ballad from the British Isles, in this case, Childe Waters, is right up my alley. Yes, I have read the ballad, and some variants, and yes, this does make me want to seek out some more. I’ve loved this kind of tale since I was but a wee little princess. Maybe it’s in my blood. This feels like a medieval story, because, despite the then-modern setting, complete with hippie commune (and, truth be told, I would like to visit Fair Day in the really real world if that were possible, and I may or may not have a mental note to name a fictional stately home of my own -at least two centuries before the 1970s, thanks- Fair Day, or maybe there may be a Fairday family in my fictional future) the language, lyrical and dreamy, feels like it’s reaching through the mists of time, from another age, and I fell into the world of the book without question.
Childe Waters (alternately called Lord John, as, Ellen is sometimes called Margaret for reasons that probably make perfect sense to old timey British Isles people) is not all that great to Ellen in the original ballad. In fact, he’s basically a jerk. John Waters, in this book, behaves as one might imagine a man in his early twenties, in the 1970s, might react when he learns that he has fathered a child on a sixteen year old girl. I would have liked to have seen more about how John’s other girlfriend at Fair Day affected John. He doesn’t recognize Ellen at first, when she arrives, and not because of her pregnancy or disguise. Is the other woman controlling him in some way?
I have other questions. What’s the deal with Ellen having to pass through water to get to John? Medieval symbolism has something to do with it, I am sure, and I have absolutely no doubt, that at some point in the not too distant future, I am going to fall down a rabbit hole of Child Ballads and folk tales, and see where all that leads me. Something something rural south something something old traditions something something, Ellen’s question over how mountain people are the last to be civilized, and how she doesn’t know if that makes them stronger or something else entirely. Ellen’s love of horticulture and the land is part of her, and her surety, of knowing what she knows, is unshakeable.
This is a book that is going to require more study, more re-reading, more looking into and comparing and digging, and, once I have forced reader and/or writer friends to read it as well, discussion. I wish Aunt S were still with us, because I would want her input on this, her perspective. I want to track down Katie Letcher Lyle (yes, I know where her blog is, but I also need this time to be that incoherent teenage fangirl, and grown up writer on the scent of something beneath/behind/beyond the surface of the story) and buy her tea and pick her brain and talk.
Reading this book took me back to when I was that young teenager, in study hall of the second floor of McAllister Middle School. If I know where I was when I read a book, especially when I read certain individual scenes, then I know that the book in question has become a part of me, and maybe the resulting book hangover is some sort of process of recalibrating when the book and I have been reunited. A few days of fuzziness, of marination and regaining balance, and, then, it’s time to read something else. Not-reading something else is how reading slumps get started, and I don’t want one of those.
Which means it’s time to pick up something else. The first thing that came to mind is a pair of medieval romances, A Love So Bold, which I have read, and loved, and its sequel, A Banner Red and Gold, which I have not. Both are in storage. Both are out of print. The author wrote, as far as I know, only those two books. It’s not happening today. I accept that. At some point, I will stagger through the mist, and my hand will take a book from a shelf, or I’ll click on a selection from my Kindle library, and I’ll read. Maybe there will be a notice from the library that requested materials have arrived, and I will turn to one of those, because library materials come complete with ticking clocks.
In the meantime, I have writing of my own to do, and the components of the book hangover will simmer on the back burner. Maybe they will send out whiffs of why these two books have stuck with me, and what makes it different to have two book hangovers back to back. Maybe they won’t. Maybe it will take another book hangover, or two or three or ten, to work things out. That sort of thing can’t be forced, so onward I go.