The Service Of Clouds Paperback – 2 Sep 1999
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The Service of the Clouds uses the interesting device of a split narrative to tell the separate life stories of a mother and her son. Flora, the mother, has a difficult relationship with her own mother and leaves home early to work as a governess for a six-year-old boy. But, after the accidental death of the boy in her charge, she finds herself haunted her for the rest of her life as she drifts through various jobs. It is only when she accepts the help of a benevolent former employer, though, that she is able to put behind her the burdens of a failed relationship and debilitating illness to pursue her interest in art. Eventually she agrees to marry, though aware that it will be a marriage of affection and safety rather than love and passion.
The story of her son, who is a doctor, is told in between that of his mother, and though at no point do the narratives overlap, the parallels are sometimes striking. His life echoes hers through the strange awareness of death they share, and their similarly perfunctory marriages.
Hill concentrates so excessively on the internal thoughts and feelings of her characters that she up producing little more than an emotional map of their lives, which would, perhaps, work better were it not so heavily layered with mawkish sentiment. Fans may adore this novel, but others may find its laboured prose just a little bit too much. --Claire Allfree
"A beautiful and haunting novel about love, loss and the complexity of the human spirit. With delicacy and understanding, Hill offers a thoughtful portrayal, creating sensitive visions of the courage with which her characters face their existence" (Independent on Sunday)See all Product description
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In a dual narrative we follow the ambitions and disappointments of Flora into a loveless, but content, marriage which gives her the all-encompassing love of her son Hugh, whose similar story we also follow.
This is a brave book, that is moving and beautifully written, focussing on how we are moulded by our families, our environment, and by those moments which we never forget - death, heartbreak, love.
Though this is an exploration of characters never far from an awareness of death, it is not hopelessness we feel, but the dignity and honesty of death - and of lives, though stunted, that have a real engagement with the numinous.
I loved this book, quite unlike anything I have read before
Making the intriguing and instantly truthful point that sometimes houses mean more than people, Susan Hill touches a nerve. "They shelter us" and we fall in love with them. All our lives we can roam old homes in our minds, revisiting long lost stairways, attic rooms, gardens and treasured spaces. Regrets for left behind places, and wistfulness for the old lives carried on therein, are the most poignant of emotional strings to tug at. Can they mean more to us than the cast of our lives? How much would we bargain away to stay in them? That for me was the delicious point of `The Service of Clouds'.
Serious, clever, lively Flora, we meet at all her ages; busy being moved forever on by art, stories and colour. Yearning for more than her prescribed little life; falling in love with a passion, beginning with a painting, then a house, then a man and finally her only child. Although at first it seems we are to get to know her son Hugh, the good doctor we meet in middle age with retirement pressing ever nearer, it is the remarkable figure of Flora who emerges into the spotlight.
Hugh has a desire to be with the soon to die. He indulges his personal need to the benefit of his patients and himself. Such good company in one's last hours is to be wished for. All this generosity of spirit of course has a reason and that is the building point of the story.
I absolutely loved this and will read it again, recommend it and lend it. A quite unusual work that once again demonstrates the tremendous versatility of Susan Hill, a writer I am so grateful to have got to know.
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