The Canonical Hours are the seven prayer times in the day developed by the Roman Catholic Church. Ritualised offices are said, at three hourly intervals, in private or in groups. In her novel ‘China Court’, which I finished reading today, Rumer Godden has chosen to give each of her seven chapters a name of one of these hours.
Mediaeval books of hours offered hand-written and -illustrated devotional works. They are the most common manuscript works of the period. Each of Godden’s chapters is headed by quotations from two of these.
James Joyce spans just twenty four hours in his rather more lengthy ‘Ulysses’, but Rumer Godden’s tale, a saga of four generations of occupants of ‘China Court’, covers a much greater time span. So why has she chosen to present her work in this way? That, I cannot tell you, for it would reveal too much. It is well worth reading the book to find out.
There is, of course, much more to relish in the novel. Slipping seamlessly backwards and forwards through the years, we learn about those who have lived in ‘China Court’. Opening with the death of a key figure, holding all the tapestry together, it is the story of the house, but far more, of those who have lived in it. We are treated to the author’s trademark beautiful, descriptive, writing and her insightful characterisation. An example, which fits with the time theme, is how seasonable changes in the garden are detailed. Close attention has to be paid to the narrative, for so seamless are her time switches that they are unannounced, so you suddenly find yourself transplanted into the lives of other generations. If, like me, you read in bed, it is not advisable to tackle this one when you are sleepy.
Despite rain falling steadily all morning, Shelley and Ron persevered with their planned barbecue. By mid-afternoon the rain had cleared and the event continued, to be enjoyed by Jackie and me and most of the usual guests. Convivial conversation ensued. The delicious fare was similar to that provided on 9th. I drank Doom Bar and Jackie drank Carlsberg.
Traditionally, English Bank Holiday events are ruined by rain. This one wasn’t, as the weather was slightly better than expected.