'Richards writes with conviction and wit, and with a pleasingly deft sense of timing'
THE LAVENDER CHILD | PLANET, THE WELSH INTERNATIONALIST
The Lavender Child is a novel about families. It is also a novel about what does, or should, constitute family values. Set in Saskatchewan, Canada and based around a year in the life of the Protheroes, father, mother and five daughters, it offers an unusual blend of dream, myth, realism and good old-fashioned moral rectitude.
The birth of Dion, sixth child, first son, and brain-damaged at birth is a focus for moral and emotional growth in all the main characters. His development over the year, from a scarcely human inertia to a tolerable degree of physical control and emotional mutuality, provides the coping stone upon which all other modes of development rest. Louise, mother and sometime hippie, passes through despair to a realization of the life-giving force of continuity and of community. Gavin, husband, father, traditional breadwinner, gives up his fantasy of reconciliation with the mother who abandoned him, for the more solid foundation of present familial love and responsibility. The various daughters at their different stages and ages each find, separately and together, a surer sense of their own identity and life-direction.
Harriet Richards writes with conviction and wit, and with a pleasingly deft sense of timing:
“There’s only one thing in this world 1 do on my knees”, (declared Twvia). Gavin said, “Well now, I expect your husband appreciates that.” She looked at Gavin kind of funny. He said, “You praying so much.”
She employs a variety of voices, which span the sexes and the generations in a way which is often convincing. Teenage Celia’s responses to the handsomest boy in her High School class has the ring of truth:
His lips fascinated her as they talked. She’d never actually wanted to grab a guy before and kiss his mouth as bad as she wanted to kiss Jason right then. But it was like he read her mind, and he laughed.
Louise’s mother Rachael, out at her farm alone while her deranged husband Harold has a spell in hospital, captures the reader’s imagination in her contemplation of the long vista of the past:
Eighteen years earlier Rachael had bought light rose paint from the Co-op... She looked now proudly, then regretfully, for the paint had baked in sun and worn in rain, peeled away in spots to bare wood and even if she had the energy to hold a paintbrush, wood like that couldn’t tolerate paint.
My house has turned to old toothpicks... The moon was barely over the half, rising in the east, white in the spring blue.
Indeed, it is in this section that the novel comes most wholly alive, and attracts to itself a pace and a poise that were somehow previously lacking. This lack resides perhaps in two interrelated aspects. The first is a certain scarcity of memorable characterization. The second devolves from a combination of diversity of modes and themes, and the sheer proliferation of narrational focus. In seeking to present “growth” or “reconciliation” or “love” in terms not only of a rather large family, but also in relation to the wider community, the drive and direction of the tale are sometimes lost.
There is a comparable confusion in what might be called the Celtic connexion. Celticism — here specifically related to Welsh ancestry — is associated at once with mysticism, vision, and roots. Gavin “believed he possessed the authentic Celtic soul, the mystic shade that travels unaided at night.” And yet, the reader is left uncertain as to the function of this strand of narrative, except that somehow the “mystic” or the “Celtic” is an element of great importance in the living of life.
Despite these reservations, The Lavender Child is a novel with much to commend it. If the values it puts forward are at heart rather conservative, its central message is one, ultimately, of optimism: what will survive of us is love. This is not a new message, but is perhaps a necessary one. It attracts to itself, as the novel progresses, an increasing resonance. — Clare Morgan
The Lavender Child | #130