Review of ‘The River’ by Rumer Godden

An autobiographical coming-of-age story set in 1940s colonial India. It had a dreamy, unsettling feel. Generally I liked it but describing the plot is difficult as the book is more of a collection of impressions and emotions.

The River by Rumer Godden

The third-person narrative follows Harriet, a young teenager who is becoming estranged from her older sister Bea. She spends most time with her younger brother, the unfortunately named Bogey, and there is a little sister Victoria. Their world is the river, the lush flower garden, the jute works and their Indian servants. There are two frequent visitors, a mean teenage girl called Valerie and a self-conscious disabled man, Captain John. Harriet is jealous of Captain John’s interest in Bea and then pleased when he encourages her writing. Her mother is expecting another baby and meanwhile, a cobra is lurking. The river itself is a metaphor for how life goes on.

I though the writing style was quite modern, although I wasn’t keen on the repetition of words and the oddly stilted way the characters talked. Why did they use contractions such as ‘don’t’ but never ‘it’s’, always ‘it is’? A very minor criticism, to be sure.

I’d consider reading more books by Rumer Godden. First published in 1946, this edition by Virago, 2012. It includes two short stories at the end, not related to the novel. They are called ‘Red Doe’ and ‘The Little Black Ram’. I didn’t like them.

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