The Fountain Overflows, Rebecca West, The Viking Press, 1956, 313 pp
This is one of the most wonderful books I have ever read. Let's see if I can explain why. Rebecca West wrote 14 complete novels, three of which were published after her death in 1983. She was also a journalist, reported on the Nuremberg trials and wrote the famous Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1943), a travelogue, history and impassioned appreciation of the former Yugoslavia; a book I have started a couple times and will finish someday. She has great heart along with intelligence and writing skill. Those qualities come together in perfect balance in The Fountain Overflows.
Rose, the youngest of three daughters, tells the story of her family in early 20th century England; a family who lives on the brink of poverty at all times due to their papa's unsuccessful attempts to bring truth to politics through his writing. Mama gave up a promising career as a concert pianist to marry her genius and now struggles to make ends meet while maintaining music as a constant in her children's lives. The book is like Little Women in England, except that it is leavened by wit and raised to great literature by its subtlety.
Every member of this family has a gift for understanding people. An underlying theme that there is more to life than appears on the surface lends a spiritual tone to the story. Mama has the strength of a matriarch and the compassion of an angel. I grew to love each character for his or her unique qualities because the author clearly loved them as well and brought me into their hearts and minds.
The intricacies of music training and music performance, the troubling ethical questions of British life in Edwardian times, alongside the universal problem of keeping one's head up in a society that measures worth by wealth and possessions, made this an ideal story. I want every woman I know to read it and I will surely read it again.
(The Fountain Overflows and Black Lamb and Grey Falcon are available in paperback by special order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. Little Women is always in stock on the shelves.)