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Review: The Camomile, by Catherine Carswell


Pages: 305
Original date of publication: 1922
My edition: 1987 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: It’s on the list of VMCs
How I acquired my copy: bookstore on 10th st., Philadelphia, August 2011


The Camomile is the story of one young woman’s coming of age in 1920s Glasgow. Having just spent several years studying music in Germany, Ellen Carstairs returns to Glasgow to teach, meanwhile realizing her ambition of being an author by keeping a diary of her experiences and writing letters to a friend.

I liked the idea of the novel, but I just wasn’t all that interested in the way the narrator talks about her experiences. She wasn’t compelling enough as a narrator for me to quite like her as much as I wanted to, which was disappointing considering that Carswell based Ellen’s experiences on her own, and held correspondence with many famous people, among them DH Lawrence, Vita Sackville-West, and Rebecca West. Ironically, I think maybe the story might have been better if it hadn’t been written in diary/epistle form, and if Catherine Carswell had done a better job of removing herself from the story she was trying to write.

But as I’ve said, I like the idea for the book, especially since Ellen rents a room especially for writing, a la A Room of One’s Own. I usually like the books that VMC have reprinted, but unfortunately I just wasn’t involved with the story in order to finish the novel.

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