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The Fountain Overflows

(Aubrey Trilogy #1)

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  2,178 ratings  ·  301 reviews
The lives of the talented Aubrey children have long been clouded by their father's genius for instability, but his new job in the London suburbs promises, for a time at least, reprieve from scandal and the threat of ruin.

Mrs. Aubrey, a former concert pianist, struggles to keep the family afloat, but then she is something of a high-strung eccentric herself, as is all too c
Paperback, 408 pages
Published December 31st 2002 by NYRB Classics (first published 1956)
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Pamela Kay Hawkins It is a clean book, make that refreshing. Consider the time late 19th, early 20th. Century. You don't get to view bedroom antics, but the people are c…moreIt is a clean book, make that refreshing. Consider the time late 19th, early 20th. Century. You don't get to view bedroom antics, but the people are captivating, as is the situation in which West's characters find themselves. Smart and funny, with a dab of the occult, if that's what you're craving.(less)

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Average rating 3.82  · 
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Paul Bryant
Sep 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels
I who usually hang around with degenerates (murderers, religious maniacs, Hitler) found myself enfolded within the bosom of a shabby-genteel family, the Aubreys, who were - only just - scraping by somewhere between 1900 and 1910 in south London on what the father forgot to gamble away on the stock exchange (not once but many times) and the mother’s fixed purpose that her two middle daughters will become concert pianists. The mother says things like

It must have the strict value of a quaver, other
Feb 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: virtuous virtuosos
Recommended to Mariel by: blood traitor
Do you feel like you've walked into the edges when you catch someone crying? What if they want you watching them cry? The edges could melt and lines blur. The them with just them, the them with you, you with them and you with just you. Rebecca West's fountain overflowed, all right. Too many people. I guess the lines did too, like one of those chalk drawings from the film of Mary Poppins. Lines on a page from trying to get it all down and figure everyone's place to make your expected move. I had ...more
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘The Fountain Overflows’ was Rebecca West’s first book in twenty years; and it was to have been the first volume of a trilogy that would tell the story of her century. She didn’t live quite long enough to complete that story, but after reading this book I am eager to read the next book and to read the final, unfinished work.

This is a story that draws on the authors own life, without being entirely autobiographical; and it tells of growing up in a creative, musical family, from the perspective o
On completion: What did I think? Ughhhhh! This was not for me, and honestly I would not recommend this to anyone. I found it childish and boring and long and drawn-out. It is basically a coming of age story, but it is too outdated to give to today's kids. It throws in some satire on Edwardian society and tries to cover disparate topics from feminism, to the essence of music, to clairvoyance and the wisdom of kids / stupidity of adults. It does none of this well. Except for an occasional sentence ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jenny (Reading Envy) by: Elizabeth☮
I went to book Twitter (specifically the hosts of the Backlisted Podcast) for a recommendation on books with music as a main theme and this is what they came up with - a book Elizabeth had previously recommended to me. Doh! I enjoyed this novel (a first in a series) about an out of luck family in the years before World War II, from the perspective of one of the middle daughters. I enjoyed the challenge of pondering if anyone is an unreliable narrator. The whole family agrees Cordelia has no musi ...more
I so enjoyed this book. The way the story was told through the eyes of a child was wonderful, I loved Rose's personality. I really enjoyed the way the children spoke and looking into their make believe world I remembered that I had had imaginary animals too, but had completely forgotten about them until I read this ! If you are a musician or love music this book will have appeal for you.
Helene Jeppesen
"The Fountain Overflows" is a beautiful story about four siblings who live together with their mother in England; three sisters and one brother. Their father is in the picture, but he's very distraught and seldom present in the house. We then follow these four siblings' lives together with their mother as they grow up and become more and more independent. This is also a story about music and talent and how that can affect your life in positive and negative ways.
Based on this synopsis, it is ver
Jul 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: musicians
(I hate reviewing books like this one! It's impossible. If I say everything rushing around in my head, no one will benefit. If I am brief, it is like an insult both to the book itself and to my feelings about it. I'm just going to grit my teeth and get it over with.)

This is a weird book. Irritating and even disturbing at first, I found myself getting very tense and anxious about the family's situation, and angry with the father for his neglect. I was sure I wasn't going to like the book, but by
Mary Durrant
Feb 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful book!
The first of a trilogy.
Utterly compelling writing.
The Aubrey family live in Edwardian London.
The father loves his children and makes them beautiful things but even so he struggles to keep them to the standard they are used to as he constantly speculates and leaves them in penury.
It is the Mother that keeps the family together even when the Husband leaves.
All is not lost though as the pictures they thought were just copies were in fact real.
I loved it and can't wait to read the nex
Sonia Gomes
Sep 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: All women!
What do you do when your parents are brilliant but eccentric?
Keith Clare a brilliant pianist married to the brilliant writer Piers Aubrey, both eccentric.
But Piers shows a touch of malevolence, he cares for none of his four children. An inveterate gambler leaves his family in utter poverty, although he shows touches of love and creativity during Christmas, when he constructs elaborate wooden castles for them.
Clare Keith just goes through the utter misery of poverty, duns at the door, never a
This is the first book of the Saga of the Century (Aubrey) trilogy and I really liked it.

What can I say about this book? It's another little gem of the literature.

This is an auto-biographical novel set in early twentieth-century London, is narrated by a twelve-year-old girl who, along with her twin sister, is a piano prodigy. The girls’ mother--eccentric in her own way and their father is a controversial journalist. By the end of the book, he decides to take another turn on their lives.

Its seque
Mar 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
two pages into this realized i'd come across a sublimely intelligent and aware narrative voice -- that of a 12-yr-old girl in turn-of-the-century London -- and from that point on eat it up fast enough. pure delight. a fictionalized account of west's real family, the story follows the lives of the narrator, rose aubrey and her twin sister mary (both of whom are prodigies on the piano), their older sister cordelia, who apparently stinks at the piano, but doesn't realize it (much to the chagrine of ...more
DNF at 65%

40 days with this book and my reader's enthusiasm is now officially dead.
I might as well even write a review a bit later because the book is not bad per se, it's just excruciatingly still (and presumptuous).
May 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
This is the second Rebecca West novel I've read. My first was her unfinished novel Sunflower. Oddly enough, I preferred that one to this, her most famous work. Though unfinished, Sunflower had a much tighter narrative, in my opinion.

Here, it seems West had so much to say, it came out all in a rush: anecdotes within anecdotes, text arbitrarily divided into paragraphs and chapters. It felt almost manic. It was frustrating, at times, because I craved something more linear. Nevertheless, one can't d
Oct 28, 2012 rated it it was ok
Well, I gave up on this book, but maybe I should give it a second chance after reading all the glowing reviews. I didn't like how Cordelia was treated by the rest of the family and for the longest time, I thought she actually was probably a good violinist and that Rose and Mary were mediocre pianists but couldn't accept that Cordelia was better than they were. I probably wouldn't have read the book at all had I known that Constance's home was going to be haunted by poltergeists because that's ju ...more
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book woke all my senses up. I just completely fell in love with this family. With their eccentric dad, their mother, I just felt like I could have been any of them, given the circumstance of another life existing. I just love when these things happen, I actually stole it from an abandoned bookshelf, and it was a joy from beginning to end. I will try to get my hands on the other two books from this trilogy, but no matter what I think of the others, this was a beautiful book which I hope can ...more
Oct 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of The Soloist by Mark Salzman
Recommended to Ellen by: my mother
I originally read this brilliant book by Rebecca West when I was in my teens. Two of her themes rang so true that they clarified the way I thought and still think. First, she brought to life how much children are at the mercy of their parents. The children's father is a charming, intelligent man who is also self-centered, intolerant, ungrateful, and incapable of keeping a job. West's own father deserted the family and her portrait of the fictional father captures the aching love and mistrust the ...more
Apr 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Her conversation consisted of comments on our circumstances too bluff and too indelicate to be called sympathetic, though if they were not that they could have no purpose, and when she could think of no more she used to turn her pouches and her jowls on us children, and inquire whether we realized we must earn our livings as soon as possible, adding, “And there’ll have to be no nonsense about it either.” This phrase was surely as destitute of meaning as the baying of a dog ...

Concordance Under T
Aug 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
If you're looking for a book driven by plot, this isn't the choice for you.

The Aubrey family is strange, but talented; Mr. Aubrey's specific talent lies in keeping the family in debt, but Mrs. Aubrey and twin daughters, Mary and Rose, have a talent in music rivaled by few. The youngest son, Richard Quin, doesn't care about music so much, but is beloved by all who set eyes on him. The eldest daughter, Cordelia, isn't talented in music at all, looks different than the rest of the family, and is on
Feb 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Fountain Overflows is possibly one of Rebecca West’s most famous works – the first novel in a projected trilogy – the third of the trilogy not quite finished when Rebecca West died. The Real Night and Cousin Rosamund complete the trilogy and both these novels were published posthumously, – and while I am not keen on unfinished works – I do now very much want to read them both.

The story is that of an Edwardian family in the years before the First World War. Our narrator is Rose, one of three
Jan 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: adrianne, paul, matt
From the description of the story, you'd expect this book to be a decent, but very ordinary, story something along the lines of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In fact, this book is anything but one of those novels- it is as whimsical and darkly humorous as a Roald Dahl story, but with themes and characters as complex as something you'd find in Dostoevsky. I lost a substantial amount of sleep this past week, partly because I stayed up too late to read, and partly because after reading my mind wouldn't ...more
pre wwi one scotland, london a quirky novel that can totally absorb the reader in the childish and deadly serious world of art, writing, class war, sudden death, and even poltergeists of all things. rebecca west most famous novel of "black lamb and grey falcon" has nothing on this frightening, funny, and damn weird novel (in search of an editor, oh why didn't she have an editor?) that reminds me much of a certain pirate ship crewed by children in this story A High Wind in Jamaica. please see oth ...more
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
West writes beautifully on music and I would have preferred that alone.

Some wonderful social history on artistic London life in the early twentieth century.

But very poor pacing, at times molasses-thick for me, and the same old scenes played out on a loop (im thinking of Cordelia's struggles with the violin) with a titbit of something wonderful every fifty pages.

A family saga in which I wished to be the occasional visitor, but felt like the person who comes for a cup of tea and never gets to lea
esther, clare, laura 5*

My copy is 1958 hardback

To my sister
The cistern contains:
th fountain overflows
- William Blake
Opening: THERE was such a long pause that I wondered whether my Mamma and my Papa were ever going to speak to one another again. Not that I feared they had quarrelled, only we children had quarrels, but they had fallen into a dream. Then Papa said hesitantly, "You know, I am very sorry about all this, my dear."
Laurel Hicks
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A charming story, beautifully told.
Moon Rose
Aug 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Moon Rose by: Goodreads members who liked The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, The Saga of the Century Trilogy, New York Review Books Classics
“You must always believe that life is as extraordinary as music says it is.”
Music is from which the vessel of one′s soul is stirred to unimaginable heights of feeling as it is soothed by the glorious harmony of its sound, which congruence of perfection eliminates any notion that separates joy from sorrow as both are eternally conjoined in unison, linked together on a platform for a single Universal purpose---a symphony of creation that represents the divine language of the gods.

Music by its
Jun 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary
Rebecca West likes to hear herself talk. That isn't necessarily bad--her writing is gorgeous. But in saying a lot, she sometimes repeats herself or says a lot of nothing. Nothing much happened in this book--it's more like a peek, through the limited perspective of a very astute, eloquent child--into the life of a family that continues to remain a mystery even though we spend 400-plus pages with them.

Forty percent into this book, nothing continues to happen, so the plot does not pick up until alm
Jul 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing

This is one of the most wonderful books I have ever read. Let's see if I can explain why. Rebecca West wrote 14 complete novels, three of which were published after her death in 1983. She was also a journalist, reported on the Nuremberg trials and wrote the famous Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1943), a travelogue, history and impassioned appreciation of the former Yugoslavia; a book I have started a couple times and will finish someday. She has great heart along with intelligence and writing skill
Jan 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a lovely lovely book. Set in the early 1900's, it's an excellently and most skillfully written story of an extraordinary family that finds itself in extraordinary circumstances again and again. Beautiful wondrous prose. I am so enchanted. I borrowed this one from the library but since they didn't have the next one, This Real Night, I hastily ordered myself a copy. I regret the lag that has occurred between them but how was I to know this book would be such a pleasure? I haven't read anyt ...more
Nov 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My enjoyment of this was so thorough that while it was underway, I remained convinced it was the best book I've ever read, an impression I knew I was unlikely to sustain once it ended, but still delighted me.

A jacket blurb proclaims West " of great masters of the English prose sentence" which is one those quintessentially dreary book jacket things to say, the kind of praise John Updike is often called on to provide for somewhat forgotten writers. I don't even know how to summarize the bril
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Cicely Isabel Fairfield, known by her pen name Rebecca West, or Dame Rebecca West, DBE was an English author, journalist, literary critic, and travel writer. A prolific, protean author who wrote in many genres, West was committed to feminist and liberal principles and was one of the foremost public intellectuals of the twentieth century. She reviewed books for The Times, the New York Herald Tribun ...more

Other books in the series

Aubrey Trilogy (4 books)
  • This Real Night
  • Cousin Rosamund
  • The Saga of the Century: The Fountain Overflows, This Real Night, and Cousin Rosamund

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“You must always believe that life is as extraordinary as music says it is.” 110 likes
“Yes,” said Mamma, “this is the worst of life, that love does not give us common sense but is a sure way of losing it. We love people, and we say that we are going to do more for them than friendship, but it makes such fools of us that we do far less, indeed sometimes what we do could be mistaken for the work of hatred.” 17 likes
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