One From the Archive: ‘The Ballad and The Source’ by Rosamond Lehmann ****

So far, Rosamond Lehmann’s books have been a little hit and miss for me.  I very much enjoyed Invitation to the Waltz, but its sequel, The Weather in The Streets, was nowhere near as enjoyable as I thought that it would be.  I had high hopes for The Ballad and The Source.  The novel was first published in 1944, and is part of the Virago Modern Classics list.

‘The Ballad and The Source’ (Virago)

The Ballad and The Source tells the story of a ten-year-old girl named Rebecca Landon, who is living in the country with her family when an ‘enigmatic and powerful old woman’ named Sibyl Jardine returns to the neighbourhood.  The premise of the novel intrigued me as soon as I read it: ‘The two families, once linked in the past, meet again, with Rebecca gradually becoming drawn into the strange complications of the old lady’s life’.

Sibyl Jardine has been called Lehmann’s ‘most formidable literary creation’, and it is certainly true that she has been fabulously created.  The elements of personality which she consists of are worked beautifully into the novel, and she is not a protagonist whom I will forget in a hurry.  The Ballad and The Source is beautifully written, and Rebecca’s narrative voice is spellbinding.  I did feel that it waned a little at the end of the book, but the rest of it was so very good that I feel unable to award it any less than four stars.

I really enjoyed Janet Watts’ introduction to this volume, but it did give rather a lot of the plot away (something which I have consciously tried not to do in this review), which was a shame.  The plot is so rich; layer upon layer has been added in order to create a very engaging and satisfying whole, and it is a novel which I will happily recommend to everyone.

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