Although I’m reluctant to place any nasty curses on myself by saying this; I think I’m doing darned well with my reading spurt so far this year (perhaps less so with the blogging as a result!) Classics, modern fiction, I am all over it folks. Taking this plethora of books in at an alarming pace (one that is guaranteed not to last by all accounts) it would therefore be just, frankly, rude of me to not include one of my favourite authors in the mix; the sentimental, the joyous, Paul Gallico.
The Snow Goose, is, without a doubt, Gallico’s most famous work and, along with his Mrs Harris tales, the most critically acclaimed. Often cited as a ‘childhood classic’ – an assertion I find a little tricky now having read the book – this was a beautiful copy given to me by my parents some years ago and that has now done the rounds, ironically, through all of our friends and family, but not me! Until now…
Philip Rhyader is an outcast. An artist suffering from kyphosis, it becomes his natural habit to retreat from the world into his lighthouse on the edge of the bleak Essex marshes where he paints and cares for his adopted family of migratory birds.
One cold day, Fritha, a young local girl with flaxen hair and intense, violet eyes, arrives on Rhyander’s doorstep with an injured bird. Despite her inherited fear of the hunchbacked man, she has heard rumours of his healing powers and way with wild animals. The bird is a Canadian Snow Goose, travelled hundreds of miles in its migration only to be shot down by a rogue hunter’s gun. They call her La Princess Perdue.
As war rumbles on across the wild ocean they know so well, Rhyander and the young girl develop an unexpected friendship under the wing of their Snow Goose. Although the recovery and eventual departure of the bird could spell the end of a special period for the pair, as their Princesse returns to the lighthouse without fail every year, so does Fritha. However, the fate of the bird and his old friends become inexorably linked as the pull of the conflict across the waves becomes so strong that even the outcast must play his part.
This beautiful fable of love, friendship and loyalty is universal yet so subtle in parts that I think it far more appropriate to finally experience this book as an adult. In their unity with the natural world around them, Gallico creates a setting that wipes away all artifice and leaves us with an eerie beauty and timeless message.
‘Greys and blues and soft greens are the colours, for when the skies are dark in the long winters, the many waters of the beaches and marshes reflect the cold and sombre colour. But sometimes, with sunrise and sunset, sky and land are aflame with red and golden fire.’ p.8
‘And so, when one sunset she heard the high-pitched, well-remembered note cried from the heavens, it brought no instant of false hope to her heart. This moment, it seemed, she had lived before many times.’ p.44
With its magical blend of tenderness and Rhayader’s loneliness, The Snow Goose could very easily leave its readers devastated by the closing pages. Instead, we leave full of love and reflection. Call me corny, I simply don’t care – everyone should have this evocative little novella tucked in the wings of their library.
Snow Goose Flyout by Tucker Hammerstrom via Flickr