Living with her mother in Switzerland during the time of World War II, Madge moves from the concerns of childhood to the edge of the more adult woes of love and loss, separation and community....
|Number of Pages||:||77 Pages|
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Now being part of everything is all very well when you're tucked up in bed watching the lights from the upper row of Leytaux chalets shine in your window, knowing that light is the Riboux', that that light is Madame and Mademoiselle Yvette's, that that light is the strange 'guests' light up on the upper pathway. Little lights coming, going, great lights making one solid sheet of silver on a bedroom wall; there was no room in the world better for watching moonlight than was Bett's room. Watching the moonlight creep up like a veil, just waiting for the moment when it will spill over the sharp edge of the mountain, is one thing. Safe in bed is one thing. Being part of everything out of doors after having had nasty thoughts about Bett, and after being decidedly snubbed by Madame Beaupére, is another.It was the fault of the shoes. If little Madge had not been required to wear them in their garden where Madge couldn't, wouldn't accept their snakes. If she hadn't pretended to herself that she only wanted Monsieur Beaupére to remove the nails from those shoes, she wouldn't be clinging to the perilous cliff. Up above certain death, inside the loving regret of sacrificing your loved one to self staging. Madge's mother Bett told her that God often turned into an Eagle and there he is, in washed tears-rain terror. She wishes in her heart to let it all end up all right. H.D.'s daughter Perdita Schaffner wrote something that I loved in her introduction. That Madge is the alter-ego of of Bett. I read her memoir of her childhood, The Gift, in 2012 (it's great despite New Directions inexplicable decision to remove chunks of the text). You know how some authors writing from childish perspectives sound like adults trying to sound like children, conveniently dropping their new history as a coming and going accent? The Gift felt like H.D. was still there, undivorced from her past self. Wanted to still be there, a flesh ghost that could still move through. It was amazing. But Madge, Madge is an extension of her mother's loving hand. She can always go home again when the music stops. Madge says things like "England has no enemies but its own hearts". How did Madge know that except by surprising herself. She is snobbish about the priggish Girl Guides investigating the Swiss mountains single file. The other foreigners don't belong in Switzerland as Madge who speaks everybody's French to everybody. And Bett is there to be gentle and know things like the Girl Guides don't have just what Madge has. A safety balloon that won't explode one day and she won't speak anyone's language to anyone, not unless they speak hers. Madge is forever reciting to herself from Bett. On the lookout for Bett's soft storytelling voice that asks Madge if she knows what is the light in the lamp that isn't the lamp in them. "Now what is the lamp side of the story and what is the light side of the story?" The boys of the mountains, the ancient Pan boys, love Madge. Her little boyfriend André will always mean very seriously that this time he will tell her mother. It annoys Madge that he doesn't give way in the beginning when it is known that he will have to give way in the end. I don't know about Madge always getting her way, but it felt good to wish with Madge that she hadn't been traitorous to her mother's good sense to not go about wildly as if the wildness wouldn't bite back. Bett makes the sound of water when she's playing Erlking in the dark. How could Madge care about something like having to wear shoes when her mother thinks to do that? Wooly sweaters and short hair notwithstanding. I loved Bett. But Madge knows that after the lamp-and-lights are carrying her away into woods and scaring her and far away from the ending reassurances. It makes me think of someone reading this book and sighing dreamily that one day their daughter will love it. Maybe they will, and maybe they won't (having their own ideas and chasings to satisfy). It feels like the kind of story you have to love with your own whole heart and only hope that if you shared it with someone you loved they would know too. History smoke curling around your feet for story-time. Ancients on shoulders and peering over your capturing. It's strange to me how H.D. made this that for yourself warmness that pauses over something incredible (maybe that gentian-blue meadow that Madge couldn't recreate on silly brown paper) for someone else. It's a real world underneath a roaming of miles of crashing the best you have to mourn it still here. Madge gets her way, the kindly Doctor Blum has a hedgehog who has had babies. The mysterious hérisson is real. Weltgeist, whom she saw as a sort of Erlking (another sort of spirit, who stole a little boy in a song), or Pan, who, of course, she knew had shaggy legs and goat heels and a tail and goat horns, for there were lots of old Greek statues and copies of the Greek statues in books; or Father-which-art, who was the most difficult to visualise but who is there like Pan, part of everything all the time. When Madge opened her eyes she thought it must be Pan who answered her.I loved the woodcuts by George Plank. My favorite is Madge's hands holding the hérisson (French for hedgehog) sun in cliffs aligning sky. Or Madge holding onto that bush waiting to see if she will be one of those who are as unafraid of the sound of God as they are unafraid of thunder. I wonder about the huge hérisson in the frame with the viper (André imagining Bett's native America as filled with enormous snakes was fantastic. Madge doesn't appreciate his laughter much at all, either). If she didn't know what a hérisson was it could have been anything but the creature has the tell-tale pins and needles animality. I loved André and Doctor Blum's puffy peopleness. They made me feel like when young me would staring problem the hell out of magical brethren. Afraid that their attributes would come over me too, afraid they wouldn't. I'd flex myself and shake and shiver to ward them off.
What a strange, atmospheric book this is. The events of the plot, such as they are, are few and mundane -- a little girl tries to get rid of her boots, runs down a steep hill, and requests a hedgehog from the town doctor without knowing what one actually is -- but significance is always hovering just off stage. The same densely-packed allusions and metaphors that crowd H.D.'s poetry fills the pages of this slim, almost forgotten volume.Is it actually a children's story? I'm unconvinced. The circular, unorthodox prose, which functions almost like a fugue, takes a fair amount of warming up to, and although the child's voice rings very true, so much of the story depends on things that little Madge misses -- things that a child reader might well miss too. It's an oddly hermetic story, one that almost certainly would have faded entirely from sight had the author not achieved great stature with other works.Yet it's not easily dismissed, for all of its elusiveness. I can't shake the feelings it brought on -- nostalgia, sadness, a certain quicksilver sigh of the heart. I might bump this up in my ratings with time. It seems like that kind of book.N.B. I did, in fact, decide after several months to move this from a four-star review to a five-star.
A curious book - hard to figure out if it is for children or not. It doesn't seem like it has that much appeal for adults, but it is not written in a way that would appeal to most kids. It takes several chapters to deal with minutes of action.