Don's Reviews > The Fountain Overflows

The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
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's review
May 15, 12

bookshelves: uk
Read in May, 2012

Wonderful book about family life. 5 reasons to read this book:

(1) West is reputed to have described art as being science except more scientific. Her depiction, in this semi-autobiographical novel, of the mother in this story, Mrs. Aubrey illustrates how true this observation was. A lesson in character study - a fully realized bundle of contradictions, but deeply human. And all of this in a story full of the supernatural - poltergeists, mind-reading etc.
(2) The writing. Christopher Hitchens wrote of West, "Writing on this level must be esteemed and shown to later generations..." Nuff said.
(3) To become acquainted with West and her biography. West, like Hitchens, was a freethinker and an anti-totalitarian. She opposed Hitler early on before war broke out, spoke out against the Bolsheviks and Stalin at a time when that was unpopular, particularly amongst the Walter Duranty-influenced circles in which she moved, advocated on behalf of Emma Goldman, decried the U.S. failure to oppose Franco, and worked in camps for the women and children victimized by the Spanish civil war. Harry Truman said she was his favorite journalist.
(4) The music. Keep spotify nearby and listen to the music the children practice. The thread dealing with Cordelia, the non-musical sibling who nevertheless achieves a measure of success as a violinist, is a profound but hilariously funny meditation on what it means to be a musician.
(5) Memorable lines. Out of maybe a dozen or so lines I am sure I will remember clearly a few years from now my favorite was Mrs. Aubrey's counsel to her daugher Rose "You see, you are allowed to read the newspapers now. I hope you will not attach too much importance to them. They give you a picture of an ordinary world that does not exist. You must always believe that life is as extraordinary as music says it is."

Though the basic plot (disposable father/husband) would seem amenable to contemporary college classrooms, its my impression West is not actually taught anywhere. Communists, or one time communists, like Dorothy Parker, Livian Hellman, and Doris Lessing, and the Vichy-collaborator Gertrude Stein are much more popular political female writers on campus than the much more talented West who it appears cannot be forgiven for failing to toe the Stalinist line. Perhaps all the supernaturalism West included in this novel was consistent with her idea of art being science and accurately foretold the ghost of Walter Duranty lingering on stifling truth?
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