Skip to main content

Review: The Land of Spices, by Kate O'Brien


Pages: 285
Original date of publication: 1941
My edition: 1990 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read: read it for All Virago/All August
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, June 2010


Set in an Irish convent school in the early years of the 20th century, The Land of Spices is a novel that covers the school career of Anna Murphy, who comes to Compagnie de la Sainte Famille at the ago of six. She attracts the attention of the Reverend Mother, an Englishwoman who watches Anna from afar during the eight or ten years that Anna remains at the school.

I’ve had good luck and bad with Kate O’Brien’s novels; I disliked The Ante Room but loved Mary Lavelle. The Land of Spices falls into the “love” category for me. I wasn’t sure that a novel set in a convent school would be my cup of tea, but the novel in a greater sense is about human relationships, not just religion and spiritually. It’s also obviously a coming of age novel, about how one girl changes and adapts to her surroundings, even though her home life isn’t ideal. There’s an interesting contrast with the life of Reverend Mother, whose past as Helen Archer is revealed bit by bit. They have an unspoken bond with one another, even though Anna doesn’t realize it. There are some really beautiful observations here about the impact that two totally different people can have on one of another.

My only problem with the book is that throughout the book there are excerpts of letters written in French and other languages, which reveal key plot points but are kind of meaningless if you don’t speak those languages. But in all, this is a really powerful book.

Comments

Lisa said…
This was the first of her novels that I read, and none of the others have quite measured up to this one. Isn't Mary Lavelle meant to be sort of a sequel, with different characters - if that makes sense? I've had it on my TBR pile for years but haven't read it yet.

Popular posts from this blog

Review: Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor

Forever Amber takes place in the 1660s, immediately follwing Charles II's ("the Merry Monarch") return of the Stuarts to the English throne. The book features Amber St. Claire, a young woman who starts out as a sixteen-year-old country girl, naieve to the workings of the world. She immediately meets Bruce Carlton, a dashing young Cavalier, with whom she has a passionate love affair in choppy intervals throughout the book. They have two children together, but Bruce won't marry her for the reason he tells his friend Lord Almsbury: that Amber just isn't the kind of woman one marries.

Upon following Bruce to London, he goes to Virginia, leaving her to fend for herself. What follows is a series of affairs and four marriages, with Bruce coming back from America now and then. Amber's marriages are imprudent: her first husband is a gambler, her second is an old dotard, her third locks her up in the house for days and won't let her out; and the last is a fop who a…

Review: This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 254Original date of publication: 1964My edition: 1964 (William Morrow)Why I decided to read: it was 90 degrees outside at the time and I decided it was time to read another book by a favorite authorHow I acquired my copy: from Susanna Kearsley, December 2009Sometimes, whether or not I decide to read a book depends on the weather. Mary Stewart’s books are best read on either very hot or very cold days; and since it was 90 degrees out one weekend a couple of weeks ago, I decided that this one would be perfect. And it was.This Rough Magic takes its title from The Tempest, a play from which this novel takes off. Lucy Waring is a struggling actress who comes to visit her sister on Corfu. One of her neighbors is a renowned actor who’s taken a bit of a sabbatical and his son, a musician with whom Lucy comes to blows at first. This Rough Magic is vintage Mary Stewart, with a murder or two, a mystery, romance, suspense, and lots of magic thrown in. Lucy is your typical Mary Stewart hero…

Review: Joy in the Morning, by Betty Smith

Pages: 294
Original date of publication: 1963
My edition: 2010 (Harper Perennial)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Barnes and Noble, Phoenix, January 2011


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my all-time favorite books and I’ve read it, oh, half a dozen times, so I was interested to see how Joy in the Morning would compare.

Set in the late 1920s, Joy in the Morning begins when Annie, aged 18, comes to a small Midwestern college town where her fiancée, Carl, is in law school. The novel opens with their marriage in the county courthouse, and follows the couple through their first year or so of marriage. It’s a struggle, because Carl and Annie are basically children themselves, for all the ways in which Carl tries to appear more adult-like.

Annie is endearing; she’s ignorant but a voracious reader, reading everything from Babbitt to War and Peace. Betty Smith’s novels are pretty autobiographical; Joy in the Morning is (unofficially) a kind of sequel to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn—cert…