Lolly Willowes or The Loving Huntsman – Sylvia Townsend Warner

 

“Her disquiet had no relevance to her life. It arose out of the ground with the smell of the dead leaves: it followed her through the darkening streets; it confronted her in the look of the risen moon. ‘Now! Now!’ it said to her: and no more. The moon seemed to have torn the leaves from the trees that it might stare at her more imperiously.”

The book started off well-enough. It tells the story of Laura Willowes (“Lolly”), a very independent aging spinster (I dislike that word but that’s the word they use in the book) who lives in England with her brother and his family. Because she’s single, her family try to control her but it’s obvious that Lolly is very headstrong.

I thought the book was going to focus more on her trials as a spinster in the 1920s England. It did to some extent but it took such an odd, unexpected turn towards the end when Lolly moves away to a little hamlet and then realizes that she’s a witch. I didn’t really feel as though the story had developed sufficiently in that direction to make me believe that incident was credible.

I read somewhere that there are clues all along that she’s a witch: she likes flowers so much, makes herbal infusions  and likes wandering in fields. In that case, I must be a witch too then. I found that to be a bit stereotypical, but maybe I’m being a bit too harsh. I guess the following quote also alludes to the fact that Lolly was missing something in her life:

“Her mind was groping after something that eluded her experience, a something that was shadowy and menacing, and yet in some way congenial; a something that lurked in waste places, that was hinted at by the sound of water gurgling through deep channels and by the voices of birds and ill-omen. Loneliness, dreariness, aptness for arousing a sense of fear, a kind of ungodly hallowedness- these were the things that called her thoughts away from the comfortable fireside.”

Despite that, I did enjoy Sylvia Townsend Warner’s writing style; it was very poetic and also witty at times. I liked the descriptions of the English countryside, she described it beautifully. I also liked how Laura came into her own, realized she didn’t have to live with her family but could survive very well on her own. And the fact that a female writer in the 1920s wrote a book that featured some magical realism is quite amazing. However, I wouldn’t rate it too highly.

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