An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

An Episode of Sparrows cover

An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden was first published in 1956. The setting is an area of London which like them all has a mixture of what had been grand houses fringing a poorer neighbourhood. The Victorian iron railings had been removed from the private gardens in the square belonging to the grander houses, and big holes were appearing in the grounds where large quantities of earth had been removed, it was a real mystery and Angela – queen bee of the Garden Committee – is determined to get to the bottom of it, although someone else will have to do the work of course.

Although I really enjoyed this book I did find it at times to be so sad as the main character, an eleven year old girl called Lovejoy Mason lives a loveless and neglected life as her mother has dumped her on strangers while she goes off to pursue a life on the stage, and doesn’t even send money for her upkeep with the result that Lovejoy has grown out of her clothes and shoes, something that she feels keenly as she has a love of good quality fabric and design, something that her mother had passed on to her.

A packet of cornflower seeds begins her love of gardening and she manages to make a secret miniature garden on a bomb site, the only one which didn’t seem to be inhabited by a gang of boys. But when the local baseball season was over (a game they had been taught by Zassi a little American boy) Tip Malone and his gang turned up to reclaim their patch and trouble ensues. But Tip Malone finds himself drawn to Lovejoy, it’s a mystery to him. He thinks maybe it’s because she always looks so clean with her hair well brushed, despite her obvious poverty. The garden becomes the most important thing in Lovejoy’s life and Tip gets dragged along in her wake.

The children – the sparrows – are the main characters in the book, but their exploits have a big impact on Angela and her older sister Olivia who has always lived in her young sister’s shadow. In particular Olivia who has never pushed herself forward is impressed with Lovejoy’s attitude to life although it has to be said that Lovejoy is anything but a Goody two-shoes.

Although there’s plenty of strife in this book the writing is lovely and it has a great ending so it turned out to be a perfect pandemic read.

I had been under the impression that I had read this book back in the 1970s when I had a big Rumer Godden binge, but I soon realised that I hadn’t, so that was a nice surprise. I wonder how long it has been sitting unread on my bookshelves!

12 thoughts on “An Episode of Sparrows by Rumer Godden

  1. I saw the title and thought, “Oh, I read this ages ago,” but it sounds completely unfamiliar! Godden is such an unusual writer. There are mannerisms that are hard to explain but so recognizable when you are reading her books, and her ability to describe even a minor character with a few well-chosen words is impressive.

    I own her memoir, Two Under the Indian Sun, and need to reread it.

    • Constance,
      I read Two Under the Indian Sun in 2016. Before the pandemic I bought a couple of books by her sister Jon, but haven’t got around to reading them yet. Rumer moved to Scotland in her later years to be near her daughter and I was amazed when I read one of her children’s books from that era as she wrote it as if she had been born and brought up in Scotland, she seemed to be very good with dialects.

  2. I always enjoy Rumer Godden’s writing and I haven’t read enough of it despite having several of her books on my shelves. I don’t have this one though. I’ll look out for it.

    • Sandra,
      You should see if your library has a copy in reserve stock although if it is anything like the libraries in Fife they will chuck out older books – it’s so annoying.

      • Katrina, I’m consistently impressed by the availability of books in the reserve store. And yes – this one is available from there! Now on order. One thing that does frustrate me though, is that there is an extensive collection of books with anything to do with Cornwall which it is not possible to reserve. It’s annoying to discover the book you seek only to realise that it’s held in that special store and isn’t accessible.

        • Sandra,
          It’s exactly the same here, any older books with a Scottish connection seem to be held in a prison for books somewhere on council premises and readers can’t get access to them at all. In Fife they get rid of any older books which is crazy, they often don’t have the first books in an older series, but have the more recent ones – no good if you want to read a whole series in order.

  3. I started reading this in the first lockdown and only got just past the planting the cornflowers when I got involved in a street neighbours informal book swap group. I then felt obliged to read other people’s books which would need to be returned or passed on, ahead of ones on my shelf that I could read “anytime”. I was not familiar with Rumer Godden (the book had been my mother-in-law’s), but I’ll definitely resume now I know there’s a happy ending!

    • janet,

      Your informal book swap group sounds interesting, but I can see that it might feel a bit like being on a treadmill at times. Happy endings are definitely needed at the moment!

  4. My mom read this aloud to us when we were kids (she read aloud long after we could read ourselves) and I loved it. I reread it recently and noticed the sadness much more. It is very good. I also realized it fits into a “making a garden” theme that I loved as a child–this, The Secret Garden, Mandy by Julie Edwards.

    • Jennifer,

      That takes me back as I had one son who wanted me to read to him all the time long after he could read himself, I was reading him Doctor Who books for yonks! The other son didn’t like fiction – he said it was all lies! I felt so sorry for Lovejoy, maybe that is an adult thing, or a mothering thing. Thanks for mentioning the Mandy books as I had no idea that Julie Andrews Edwards had written those books. I’ll have to track them down.

    • tracybham,

      Quite a few of her books were made into films in the 1950s/60s so you might have seen some of them. Some are set in Catholic convents, not a setting which I thought would appeal to me, but somehow it works.

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