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Rumer Godden: A Storytellers's Life [Paperback]

Anne Chisholm
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

11 Jun 1999
Born in India, at the height of British colonial power, she lived there until the 1950s. Her career as a novelist began with Black Narcissus which became a bestseller on publication in 1939 - and like many of her novels - was adapted into a film. Her relationship with India, although passionate, was ultimately and perhaps inevitably ambivalent and this ambivalence came to a head in an incident when she and her children were living in Kashmir. A servant tried to poison them and the notoriety surrounding the case forced Godden to leave Kashmir and eventually India itself. Her move from India to Scotland contains parallel themes and adventures akin to themes within her novels.

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Rumer Godden: A Storytellers's Life + Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC) + Black Narcissus: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; New Ed edition (11 Jun 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330367471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330367479
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 302,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Chisholm's book . . . captures, as did Godden herself, the rich sensory experiences, troubled political scene, and intense personal relationships that inspired such books as "Black Narcissus" (1939)."--"The Horn Book"

About the Author

Anne Chisholm is a biographer and critic who has also worked in journalism and publishing. Her first biography, Nancy Cunard (1979), won the Silver PEN prize for non-fiction; in 1992 the biography of Lord Beaverbrook she wrote jointly with her husband, Michael Davie, was runner up for the Hawthornden prize. Her most recent book was a life of the writer Rumer Godden (1998) and she is currently writing the biography of the diarist Frances Partridge. As a journalist, her first job was on Private Eye; subsequently she was on the staff of Time Magazine in New York and of the Observer. At present, she reviews regularly for the Sunday Telegraph. She has worked as a reader and occasional editor for Jonathan Cape and Bloomsbury, and has been a judge for the Booker Prize, the Duff Cooper Prize for non-fiction and for the V.S. Pritchett short story prize. In 2003 she was a visiting Fellow in the British Studies programme at the University of Texas; she has run, with Caroline Moorehead, two Arvon Foundation courses in life writing. She is a Fellow and council member of the Royal Society of Literature.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
By Alun Williams VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an informative, sympathetic, but not uncritical, biography of a prolific and long-lived author whose life was more than usually filled with incident. It was fascinating to read about the people and places that inspired Rumer Godden's wonderful novels and to learn about what she thought of the films that helped to make them famous. Rumer Godden emerges as a fascinating, determined, but often difficult woman.

Of a total of 311 pages, 233 are devoted to her life up to 1950 (when she was helping with the filming of "The River"). My only quibble with this part of the book is that we hear a good deal about (and from) a number of people whose connection with Rumer Godden seems tenuous, especially in the chapter on her life in Calcutta, presumably in the interests of atmosphere. There is a fascinating account of her time in Kashmir, from which we learn that "Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a scarcely fictionalised account of a real incident.

The part of the book which deals with her post 1950 life is less satisfactory, though there is a good chapter on her connections with Stanbrook Abbey - the convent that inspired "In This House of Brede", and an entertaining and moving account of her final trip to India in 1994, which was filmed for, and prompted by, a BBC documentary. However, at times this part of the book reads almost like a Christmas round-robin letter in its summaries of family events and the many removals from one home to another.

Anne Chisholm seems to take little interest in most of the books Rumer Godden wrote during the second half of her life. For example, she gets the name of the main character of "An Episode of Sparrows" wrong, and is very dismissive of this book, which is a favourite of mine.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
This is a fascinating book, following the life of an author probably still best known for novels like Black Narcissus, The River and The Greengage Summer.
Anne Chisholm's biography is at its best when dealing with Rumer Godden's life in India until the mid 1940s. Her portrait of a Kashmir which has long since disappeared is particularly vivid.
And while most of this book was written while Rumer Godden was still alive, Chisholm still manages to convey the more prickly sides to the Godden's character and her sometimes strained relationships with her family and friends.
An easy read and thoroughly enjoyable - and this volume certainly does what every good biography of an author should do - it encourages you to take their works down off the shelf and read them again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars 20 July 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
interesting life story of a delightful writer.
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Finding the book very interesting - the Goddens are quite a complex family. It's difficult to imagine living in India.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The life of the storyteller 31 Jan 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Having enjoyed the works of Rumer Godden all my life I also enjoyed this telling of the story of her life, which in many ways is even more interesting than the novels she wrote. The only reason that I could not give this book four stars was because I felt that the biography did not cover the last half of her life as well and as completely as it did the first half. I recommend this book not only to those individuals who are as taken with Rumer's fiction as I am, but also for those individuals who seek to become writers, and those who enjoy biography.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great insight 23 Sep 2013
By S. Myers - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Rumer Godden does a grand job of painting the picture of a woman in the early 20th century balancing a career with a family. The fact she was so prolific under her living circumstances just amazes me. Lucky us she was able to do so. Her writings about living between India and England are fascinating.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A storytellers life 28 April 2013
By Francis M. Schiraldi - Published on
This is the definitive version of the life of Rumer Godden The author gleaned her information from letters journals and personal interviews with Ms Godden herself Years from now this is the book scholars will turn to for background on this important twentieth century writer. Fully indexed and with B&W photos
10 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So-so, ho-hum biography... 17 May 2000
By A Customer - Published on
I had never read anything (that I can remember) by Rumer Godden, and this book does not make that an imperative, unlike other biographies, which sent me racing to the book store to pick up the subject's works. However, I do want to see the Renoir adaptation of "The River."
I found this a bit boring. Something about the slight, anecdotal writing. It just didn't pack a wallop for me. I read to the end - it wasn't pure Hell anything - but I didn't look forward to returning to it.
The rather wan writing style may simply reflect the rather wan woman who was, according to Chisholm's interpretation, stuffy and bound by a sort of suburban conventionality. And yet, one wonders what someone else might have made of a life lived in such exotic places...
One example of the disappointing writing of the book is the depiction of the relationship between Rumer and the older sister she worshiped. The biographer seems to have just gotten her toes wet before she pulls back. This sister was obviously jealous of Rumer and hated to relinquish her queenly role in the family to the daughter who waas obviously the better - at least more acclaimed - writer. But the biographer seems to skirt this - she alludes to it, but never goes deeply into it, as if, like her subject, she is wrinkling up her nose at anything "distasteful."
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