Slightly Better Than Expected

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.E3_double2

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.

Ron barbecueing

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.



  1. “Traditionally, English Bank Holiday events are ruined by rain.” It must rain a lot where you are; my international wall calendar is riddled with Bank Holiday, UK!

  2. I read Rumer Godden years and years ago – so long ago I don’t remember the content, just the feeling of reading her work……….. perhaps it is time to revisit? But I do mostly read in bed.

  3. Derrick, I am so pleased you continue to refer to Rumer Godden’s work! I have to root around for somthing more of hers, thugh I am currently reading a contemporary British novel, Owen Sheers’ I Saw a Man. What do you have next on your reading pile?

  4. Now I have to go and read another book. Thanks for that. But I need a favour. As a home brewer I would like to make a Doom Bar if I could. So can you find out for me what hops are used in it and what malt as well?

  5. Great post. Love the interconnected ideas. Start with Medieval Illuminated pages and finish with BBQ sausages. There is a cosmic law that makes sure weather will do unpredictable or disappointing turns during a long weekend, just to make the events more memorable.

    Had to look up Doom Bar and discovered the great geographic marketing scandal over brewing location. 🙂

  6. Great book review. Thanks for not stating any spoilers!

    Holy moley that’s a whole lotta sausage! I’m guessing there were 9 of you out there and 27 links on the grill. Either there was an army indoors or you folks were very hungry!

    1. Thanks, Oscar. There were quite a few more indoors, and in a summer house that had been turned into a bar. And loads of kebabs, salads, and desserts. I passed on desserts, as I was too stuffed.

  7. Your Book of Hours made me want to connect you with some fellow bloggers who have written some great things after researching books of hours. You really must label your Categories and tags so that like-minded people can find you.

  8. It took me some time too. When you have finished writing (or you can go back and edit a post) before you press publish or update – look to the side and press categories and put general words that you would use under a number of your blogs example nature books history. Then go to tags and put more detailed ones: book hours illuminated script barbecue English weather.
    These help WordPress automatically recommend you to bloggers with similar tags – who may opt to look at your posts. There is more information for beginners (like me – still finding out) on WordPress itself – can’t remember where. Also look up and from two southampton historians.

  9. You are just whipping through Rumer Godden. I do the same thing when I fall in love with an author. Have you read any of Robertson Davies’s work? In the 1990s, I went through him the same way I’d go through a box of chocolates 😉 Very fast.

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