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Journals, 1963-1969

by Gail Godwin edited by Rob Neufeld

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4000-6433-5
Publisher: Random House

The sentimental education of now-eminent novelist Godwin (Unfinished Desires, 2010, etc.).

This second volume of her journals begins when the author was 26, exhibiting all the angsty personal concerns of a 26-year-old, blended with bookish interests in intellectual matters such as the suffering existential philosophy of Kierkegaard and the psychology of Carl Jung. She has given up a husband and a fledgling career in journalism and has moved to a tiny flat in London, where she cultivated her “dramatic self” and gathered experiences that she later put to good use in her writing. The journals are self-absorbed and a touch juvenile (why should they not be?), as Godwin writes, “I am astonished by who I am and what I have done. The dangerous thing is to judge myself by the standards of other people.” The early pages show a mix of self-doubt, introspection, and exhortation (“I must write about going to the movies alone and why it is so good”), along with the little writerly gossip she is privy to at such a remove from the American literary scene. Godwin seems neither very likable nor very interesting until, a couple of years into her stay, she opened her eyes to the world around her—a turn that takes particularly effective form as she witnesses Winston Churchill’s funeral—and resolved to become a real writer. Even so, there is scarcely any hint that the 1960s are swirling around her, a flirtation with then-trendy Scientology notwithstanding. Fledgling writers should stick with it, though, since Godwin eventually gets down to business and reveals bits and pieces about the whys and hows of writing and the tough work of getting words on paper (“I don’t like this chapter yet, but will not stop until I capture what I want”).

Sure to interest Godwin’s constant readers, but others may wish for future volumes written by a more mature writer.