UNLEAVING by Jill Paton Walsh


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The same sort of idyllic seaside family scenes that Madge and her brother Paul enjoyed with Gran at Goldengrove (1972) in Cornwall are interspersed here with the events of the summer when Madge, in her late teens, shares Goldengrove (which she has just inherited from her grandmother) with two philosophy professors, their families, and a ""reading party"" of undergraduates. The dry philosophical chatter drifts by--means and ends, body and soul, life and death--and, to Madge, Paul and Professor Tregeagle's brooding son Patrick, seem variously fascinating, nonsensical, and remote. But around Patrick's mongoloid little sister the issues emerge in action, to be met by each teenager in his own way while the now grotesque philosophers continue their bloodless disputes. What happens is that tormented, pitying Patrick pushes his sister over a cliff to her death, though only Madge sees how it happens. A would-be rescuer drowns; Patrick is swamped by guilt; and Madge, an open, giving, perceptive girl, drawn to him from the start, recognizes her future with Patrick. Though Madge's ruminations are riddled with resounding quotes (the last from Yeats) and some irritating echoes of Virginia Woolf, Walsh is a highly accomplished craftsman, and the aura of Goldengrove compelling. Unless you share her optimism it's a bit of a shock to realize that those lovely scenes with Gran (""a queen among teacups""), which seem always misted over by idealized remembrance and often designed to demonstrate what a groovy old lady she is, are really future shots of a serenely aged Madge. Still, Walsh's fusion of themes, events, and musings is impressive and her affirmative vision projected here with full and harmonious coherence.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1976
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux