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Book Review: The Country of the Pointed Firs

19 Jul
n 1896 ... Sarah Orne Jewett published her finest work, The Country of the Pointed Firs, about a woman writer who retreats one summer to Dunnet Landing, a Maine seacoast town, to find seclusion to do her work. In the novel and stories collected here, Jewett explores the world of the lonely inhabitants of once-prosperous coastal towns, offering a detailed view of lives molded by the long Maine winters, by the surrounding rock-filled fields, and by strong, resourceful women. From Worldcat.org.

“The Country of the Pointed Firs,” by Sarah Orne Jewett

Genre: classic

Plot Summary: A collection of small event happenings and life stories of the inhabitants of a small and quiet fictional fishing village called Dunnet Landing on the shores of Maine.

My Book Review: It’s amazing how many books I set out to read prepared to be bored.  And then am pleasantly surprised, fortunately!  It was the case with this sweet novella, written in 1896.  I love adventure stories, plot and action, but this isn’t your high speed, hi-jinx suspense novel.  Instead, it was sort of… well, like Cranford meets Avonlea.  I think this must have been one of the very first titles I entered into my To-Read Notebook, and since I currently live in an area where I have a great view of tall fir trees out my window, I knew I had to read this, at least for atmosphere if for nothing else.  I’m glad I didn’t pass over it.  I kept thinking that the wonderful prose and word pictures reminded me of L. M. Montgomery’s writing.

Such wonderful descriptions!  I have never been to New England, so reading about a place so different from the places I’ve been felt like a travelogue, without being bogged down with too many unnecessary details.  You could really get the taste and flavor of the area—the far outer islands with houses built on top, the little village of nosy neighbors, the high rocky crags and scraggly pastures, and always the ever-present sea.

There are so many memorable characters (most of whom are elderly).  My favorite among them is the Queen’s Twin.  Though aged in years, they all seem to have retained a childlike sense of wonder and playfulness.  We even have the wedding of two dear old souls near the close of the book (I won’t say who!).

Moonrise, Acadia National Park - fine art Maine landscape photography print by Allison Trentelman | rockytopstudio.comOh, and you can’t read this without your quote book handy.  For a novella, it sure packed a lot of candy for the quote horder.  Check out the following just as a teaser:

“The happiness of life is in its recognitions…”

“The house was broad and clean, with a roof that looked heavy on its low walls.  It was one of the houses that seem firm-rooted in the ground, as if they were two-thirds below the surface, like icebergs.”

“’I view it… that a community narrows down and grows dreadful ignorant when it is shut up to its own affairs, and gets no knowledge of the outside world except from a cheap, unprincipled newsletter.  In the old days, a good part o’ the best men here knew a hundred ports and something of the way folks lived in them.  They saw the world for themselves… They may not have had the best of knowledge to carry with ‘em sight-seein’, but they were some acquainted with foreign lands an’ their laws, an’ could see outside the battle for town clerk here in Dunnet; they got some sense o’ proportion.  Yes, they lived more dignified, and their houses were better within an’ without.  Shipping’s a terrible loss to this part o’ New England from a social point o’ view, ma’am.’”

The colloquial speech the author uses for the characters makes it difficult to read out loud, but it does make the characters feel more real.  My only regret is that the book wasn’t a bit longer because instead of having one chapter dedicated to each unique person, I would have liked to have gone back and visited Elijah Tilley, Captain Littlepage, and the Queen’s Twin.  It also would have been nice to know a little more about the story’s narrator.  It was hard to make out who she was, how she was related, why she was in Dunnet Landing staying with Mrs. Todd, and how old she was.

There are some who say this was a boring read.  It’s painful to read such comments when I thought this book was so good… but to each his own, I guess.  You must have an acquired taste for quiet stories on a rainy afternoon and read just for the delight of meeting wonderful people and hearing beautiful descriptions.  This would make a nice escape book if you’re in dire need of rest and relaxation!

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Posted by on July 19, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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