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Review: Saraband, by Eliot Bliss

Pages: 316
Original date of publication: 1931
My edition: 1987 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: found this while browsing the shelves at the Philadelphia Book Trader
How I acquired my copy: The Philly Book Trader, March 2011

Saraband is one of Virago Modern Classics’s lesser-known reprints, and therefore often overlooked. I didn’t even know about it until I accidentally stumbled across a copy in a local bookstore. I'm glad i did, because I thought that this novel was wonderful. The story of this book follows the childhood and young adulthood of Louie, an intensely imaginative young girl who lives with her grandmother in the years leading up to WWI. When her cousin Tim comes to stay, Louie imagines that she’ll hate him; but instead, they become very dear friends. Their friendship sustains them through Louie’s time at convent school and secretarial college.

At heart this is one of those coming-of-age stories; Eliot Bliss’s style is very similar to that of Antonia White, who wrote about many of the same subjects (convent school and all of that). Saraband focuses on descriptions of places and people, which can bog the plot down a bit. Everything we see while reading the novel is through the eyes of Louie, an observer rather than a player in the drama of her life.

Louie’s sensitive nature is completely at odds with the attitude exhibited at the secretarial school she attends, which is hell-bent on turning students out in the least amount of time. Even the death of another student causes little comment in the school; but it has a profound effect on Louie, who learns through the experience that it’s accidents like this that most upset one’s sense of well-being. I love that Eliot Bliss gets her point across in a poignant and subtle way. It’s a very slow-moving book, much like the “saraband” of the title, but well-written, sometimes lyrical in style. It’s hard to believe that the author was just my age, 28, when this book was published; and that she only wrote one other novel.


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