Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann


You know when they say something is too beautiful, too close to the heart it hurts. That is how I see this book. In piercing waves that could be brought only by sharp truth and bittersweet recollection, this book engulfed me. Dusty Answers is nostalgia in its purest form, of memories stirring with fleeting delights and drawn out melancholy.

It may be that the wistfulness of the story is what makes it appealing. Its characters remain with you long after you finish it (and I could almost not let go of that last page). It enthralls not with the plot but in the beauty of Lehmann’s prose and how she draws the scenes, the characters and their sentiments. She captures on point those young delightful years of childhood and that seeking sense of belonging in each of us. There are moments, passages that almost feel like the author peeped into my head, picked out my brains and put it down on paper; that kind of creepy feeling because it related so much.

Dusty Answer is a coming of age story about a solitary girl whose childhood and growing years are engulfed in fascination with her next-door neighbors who visited every summer in the English countryside. As Judith becomes enamored to the cousins next door, basking in their attention and perhaps entertained romantic thoughts as she grew older, her journey is at best a gradual course leading on to the threshold of adulthood and realizations. It is growing pains as we call it and naturally passing to this rite entails the taste of regret and pain and reluctant absolution.

Lehmann’s writing style mirrors an idyllic atmosphere tainted with shades of melancholy. I could get lost in her descriptions and wistful musings. She draws out the emotion and expressions of each character through their gestures, body language and, in some case, their silence and unsaid words; which hits far deeper than mere utterances. It is a kind of book that gives one a different take on every re-reading (and I myself can't wait to do but as their presence lingers still that I could hardly get around to it).

It was published in 1927 and in the following years, the book seemed to go out of the radar. I'm quite grateful to pick this book in an arbitrary chance, as I dig through forgotten modern classics, especially British literature (like Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Taylor, and other colleagues). Apparently, this particular book was mentioned in Ian McEwan's Atonement (which I obviously haven't read yet) and enjoyed a little spurt of recognition once again in the late 20th century.

Judith's world seemed so distant now but the sentiments on her journey to womanhood still rings true at present time. Near the end, in her knowing eyes and stance, I almost mourned the child she was just like in all of us. This one will definitely have a place in my bookshelf.

Summary

Dusty Answer is Judith Earle's story—her solitary childhood spent in the seclusion of her riverside house, her awkward, intense experiences at Cambridge rounded with passion and disillusionment, and her travels abroad with her elegant, socialite mother. Above all, this novel is about Judith's consuming relationship with the Fyfe family, who each fall in love with Judith, transforming her young womanhood.

Title: Dusty Answer
Author: Rosamond Lehmann
Genre: Classics, British Literature, Coming of Age
Published: 1996 (first published 1927)
Publisher: Flamingo Modern Classics
Ratings: ♨♨♨♨♨ (5 cups - Beautifully nostalgic and piercing, laden with delicate prose and raw emotions, Dusty Answer is an unforgettable coming of age story).

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