Somehow Good

April 25, 2009

I haven’t finished Somehow Good yet, but — well, as absorbing as I’m finding it, I’ve been reading it on and off for a couple of weeks now, and I’m still less than halfway through. I’m not convinced that I ever will finish it.

Until I came across this book in the Project Gutenberg catalog, my main associations with the name “William De Morgan” were ceramics and this painting by his wife Evelyn, which I loathe. I had no idea that, around the turn of the century, he began a successful career as a novelist.

Somehow Good is a difficult book to define. The plot, in almost anyone else’s hands, would be unforgivably melodramatic — the New York Times reviewer (PDF) says “the plot of it might well in other hands have served to furnish forth all the thrills that melodrama is made of.”

A young woman, Rosalind, goes out to India to marry her childhood sweetheart, and is seduced on the way there by a man in whose house she’s staying. She marries her fiancĂ©, but he divorces her when she becomes pregnant and he realizes what’s happened.

Twenty years later, a man arrives in London and gets himself electrocuted on the Twopenny Tube and loses his memory. A 19 year-old girl , Sally Nightingale, feels herself responsible for the accident and brings him home to her mother. And here’s where it gets weird: her mother is Rosalind of the earlier incident, and the amnesiac is her former husband.

They marry again, with no one but Rosalind knowing the truth about his identity. And they’re happy. I assume Gerry — that’s the once and future husband — is going to get his memory back at some point, but the fact that all three of them (Rosalind, Gerry and Sally) get along so well together seems to be proof that Rosalind hasn’t done anything too wrong. And, while she is scared that Gerry will regain his memory, she doesn’t brood and torture herself over it, which, as a reader, I really appreciate.

The other interesting thing about Somehow Good — aside from the lack of drama in what seems like a necessarily dramatic situation — is the style. It’s insistently modern and young and full of digressions and references that I mostly don’t understand. As the Times reviewer says, “there’s no getting the flavor of it, except by quotation.” (This would be the place for me to copy and paste a lot of quotes, but — it would have to be a lot.)

The review, by the way, is very much worth reading if you’re at all interested in Somehow Good or in De Morgan. And the more I read the book, the more I’m interested in both.

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