Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Friday, May 07, 2010

What Rebecca did next

A sea-grape tree by Rosamond Lehmann
If anyone wants to read A sea-grape tree, they are welcome to borrow my copy. Below is my review of the book – but beware, it’s a plot spoiler if you do intend to read it!

Three decades passed between the writing of The ballad and the source and this ‘sequel’, a time during which Lehmann’s daughter died. I think this tragedy does much to explain why this book was written, and what it is about. Young Rebecca has fetched up on a Caribbean Island with a motley cast of ex-pats. She had expected to arrive with her lover, but was let down and the story shows her regaining her composure in this very unreal world. She does this through friendship and through an affair with wounded WW1 fighter pilot Johnny. The novel ends with her setting off home to England with Johnny supposedly to follow but the parallel of her jilted arrival on the island is so close that I hold out little hope for her. Sadly, I found Rebecca an insipid young woman (whereas she was quite engaging as a girl) – she seems to have no career and no real interest in anything except love.

Although Lehmann planned to write about Rebecca, ‘literary creation is…essentially an unconscious and involuntary process, in which she is almost as much of a spectator as her reader; waiting and watching as her characters emerge…’ Janet Watts’ introduction, p ix. Enter Sibyl Jardine who ‘refused to leave her author in peace… “I just went on feeling : I must find out how this woman dies.”’ p ix. Well, Sibyl dies, before the book begins, in the arms of her granddaughter Maisie, now a doctor and unmarried mother. It was her latest lust, for Johnny, that made Sibyl bring him to the island to help him recover – an irresistible man by all accounts as he had a brief fling with Maisie before Rebecca arrives. Once again the intergenerational couplings that so intrigued me in The Ballad appear again in this novel (although, to my relief, Ianthe doesn’t join in this time). Most of this history Rebecca learns through hearsay from the island gossips, but there is also a long ‘conversation’ with Sibyl who appears to her in a dream or spirit form – by this time in her life Lehmann’s own grief at her daughter’s death has lead her to a belief in spiritualism.

But this book is nowhere near as bad as it sounds – indeed, I enjoyed meeting up with these characters again together with the distinctly rum bunch who inhabit the island. It would make no sense without having read The ballad, and indeed was quite badly received, The ballad being out of print by the time A sea-grape tree was published. I believe a third book was contemplated, but never written.