Picking a lost in the stacks book is a lot like choosing a sweet from a chocolate box. You never quite know what you're going to get. A delectable violet cream or a chewy nougat or maybe a chocolate with a crunchy coconut middle (my own preferences are mostly in that order). This is especially true with the books on my library's shelves as our dust jackets are discarded before the books are sent to their places in the stacks. I am always on the lookout for an unusual spine or a catchy title--something that separates a book from the others on the shelf. Normally I like to grab several books over the course of the week and "try them out" as potential "lost books", but this week was too busy to make more than one lone selection. The question is, did I choose a good one?
Have you heard of Bruce Marshall? I hadn't. The title Girl in May caught my eye and the fact that the description from the original dust jacket was glued into the back of the book was the tipping point for me in terms of making a choice. As it turns out Bruce Marshall, a Scottish author who later moved to France, even merits his own Wikipedia entry. What do you make of someone whose profession is listed as Novelist & Accountant (in that order by the way). Someone steadfast and maybe a little staid? I'm curious.
Isn't it interesting when someone converts to Roman Catholicism they tend to be quite 'vocal' (hmm, not the best description, at least not exactly what I have in mind) about their faith. I say that as someone who was raised Catholic but was always very laid back about it. I know there is a difference oftentimes between choosing and having the choice thrust upon you, if you know what I mean. I'm thinking of authors like Evelyn Waugh or Muriel Spark who converted to the faith and it had an influence on their work. Bruce Marshall also converted and it appears that like other writers in the same situation, it lent itself to exploration in his work.
I won't quote the entire description from the dust jacket blurb, but here are a few highlights to give the flavor of the story.
"There is always an idyllic streak even in the bitterest and most mocking of Bruce Marshall's novels, so that this full-length Marshall story of young love was perhaps to be expected. Girl in May is a tender and charming romance between a heroine of seventeen and a hero of the same age--staged during the Kaiser war in and about St. Andrews, and vividly alive with the gay precocity, the courage and the exuberance of youth."
Moragh Dunwoodie, called Bumpie by her friends, and Duncan Soutar who is called Watson by his girl are the love interests. He's a first year student at the University and she's a schoolgirl who has just been expelled from boarding school.
"Their romance is one of stolen meetings and kisses after dark. They have their private language and their many private jokes, while around them move the motley crowd of absurdities of all ages who constitute for Marshall the population of St. Andrews.
I tried to find some reviews of the book, and discovered that Kirkus Reviews published something about it when it was released in 1956. They call it a "winsome" love story. It sounds as though this is a story that is perhaps told from the perspective of old age--looking back on the relationship, which didn't come to fruition. I get a favorable impression but am not quite sure what to make of this:
"A tour de force, this slight tale -- and the colloquialism and Scotticisms trip the unwary reader."
Do you think that's meant as a barb or basically nice? I do like charming, so the story has some potential. Has anyone come across Bruce Marshall before? A little teaser for a taste:
"Duncan Goodwillie Soutar had gone as an Arts student to St. Andrews in October 1917. It wasn't quite Oxford or Cambridge, of course, but it was the next best thing and, with the motorcar retail trade at a standstill on account of the war, all that his father could afford."