Monday, June 13, 2011

Book Notes: Daughter of the Misty Gorges, by Essie Summers

When I first saw the Lord of the Rings movies, and saw all those gorgeous, panoramic shots of the New Zealand landscape, my first thought was, "So this is what Essie Summers was talking about."

Essie Summers wrote for Harlequin Romance from the 1950's all the way through the 1990's (a career to envy!), and even if some of her romances (like this one) started in England, all of her heroines made it to New Zealand by the end. And Summers' descriptions of her native land made me fall in love with it from hundreds of miles away:

Christabel found the twenty-five miles to Mount Cook . . . all too short. How could it be otherwise with a tantalising view like that spread before one . . . a fairy-tale mountain that dominated the view one moment and the next disappeared behind diaphanous gossamer mist? there were massive shoulders of hills, grey and tawny, crouching in front and seeming so enormous in themselves that one could only imagine the height of the king of these Alps when one got closer. The gleaming mass of the Tasman Glacier gave the illusion of a horrific river suddenly turned by a wizard's hand into incredible depths of solid ice.

The lake shimmered under hot sunshine . . . here was the Alpine village. It was all in keeping with the spirit of the mountains, buildings of oiled wood and natural stone, chalets showing peaked roofs among pines and gums, gardens reminiscent of the bright gardens of Austria and Switzerland . . . the scarlets and pinks of geraniums splashing and cascading in a riot of colour, golds and whites of huge daisies and the paler alpine plants and creepers in myriads.

Always, in Summers' books, the beauty and ferocity of the landscape are presented in perfect counterpoint. And her descriptions of domestic life are no less compelling: there beauty and hard work make up the melody and rhythm of the music of her prose. I always finish an Essie Summers book inspired to have a house full of books, plants, & pictures, where good food is regularly served and good memories are made through the sheer repetition of good, ordinary days.

The description of Kiwi life in the back country may be what sets Summers' books apart from others, but they don't lack a good love story as the center spine. I would have a hard time telling one Summers heroine from another (or one of her heroes from another), but I don't care, because every time she tells the story, it's good: a capable, ethical woman finds herself in a new situation, working (always working! Summers' heroines are no slouches!) next to a capable, ethical man and finds that they share a vision of the good life - full of poetry and children and a good day's work doing what they love (usually ranching or writing or ministering). There's always a misunderstanding that keeps them from bliss till its explained in the last few pages, but their chemistry is so strong and their shared vision so vibrant that they run in tandem through the whole story anyway, as romantic frustration builds and their eventual happy ending becomes more and more inevitable.

I love these books. "Daughter of the Misty Gorges" is one of my favorites because the hero and the heroine are both writers, and some of their discussions about the ethical dilemmas inherent to the craft fascinate me. I also recently read "My Lady of the Fuschias" which stars the perfectest estate I think has ever been imagined, complete with shady green swimming hole, big sprawling house and tiny little writer's cabin off in the back forty. And, of course, many, many fuschias.

I highly recommend "Daughter of the Misty Gorges".

Peace of Christ to you,

Jessica Snell

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