A Cathedral town that seems to be straight out of a fairytale, memorable, endearing characters that stay in your mind forever, a quaint bookshop with a winsome bookseller, a romance at the heart of the story and a mysterious plot regarding the disappearance of a literary genius – ‘A City of Bells’ by Elizabeth Goudge is all this and much more.
‘ A City of Bells’ is the third Goudge novel I’ve read (others being ‘A Bird in the Tree’ and ‘A Little White Horse’) and so far, is perhaps my favourite.
The Plot of ‘A City of Bells’
‘A City of Bells’ deals with the story of Jocelyn Irvin, a war veteran, who travels to his grandparent’s house in the fairytale Cathedral town of Torminster. He seeks calm and solace and he also seeks to escape a life of being tied down to a clerical job in an office in London, that has been approved by his parents. Quite by chance, Jocelyn is induced by friends and family, to take up residence in a quaint old house in Torminster and become a bookseller. Whilst there, he befriends a whole community of unique characters and endeavours to solve the riddle of the disappearance of the man who had inhabited the house before him – one Gabriel Ferranti. In the lost manuscript that Ferranti leaves behind him, Jocelyn with the help of his dear friend Felicity Summers, tries to piece together Ferranti’s work – a play – and thereby try to resurrect his genius. The question remains – where has Ferranti gone and more importantly, is he still alive?
The setting of the story is the delightful town of Torminster. It is a Cathedral town and is supposedly modelled upon the city of Wells in England. The descriptions of the Cathedral town are delightful. There is a medieval feel to the place. The Cathedral Close, the Village Green, the Cathedral clock, the quaint bookshop with their vivid descriptions seem very real. The blue hills and the countryside loom up into the distance and form the perfect backdrop for the picturesque town.
There it was, Torminster, her home, the place that she loved as she would love no other place all her life long. There were the old roofs and chimneys and the church spires, the smoke lying over them like a mist, and there, towering up above the smoke, was the grey rock of the Cathedral with its three towers.
Delightful Characters in ‘A City of Bells’
One of the aspects of ‘A City of Bells’ that really appealed to me were the very well drawn characters. I think this is the great strength of Goudge’s writing – her ability to create beautiful and very lovable characters. From gentle, philosophical old Grandfather, cantankerous but lovable Grandmother, Jocelyn with his disability but his literary bent of mind, beautiful, exuberant Felicity Summers- the actress and last and best of all – the charming child Henrietta. To me, Henrietta’s charming character was the highlight of the book and I long to learn about her future in the sequels to the book.
Beautiful Nature Descriptions
Th beautiful nature descriptions in ‘A City of Bells’ is another reason why I enjoyed the book so much. Here is a description of a particularly memorable nature ramble.
“… the Tor woods in May were Paradise.
The primroses and violets were faded but the wood anemones were sprinkled over the dark earth like stars. Here and there a shaft of sunlight pierced through the new green leaves overhead and touched their whiteness to a shimmering silver, and sometimes a puff of wind made them all shiver and stir, as though they were bright points of light on water. That poised look, peculiar to them, as of something so frail that it might at any moment blow away, made them look away, made them look more like butterflies than flowers whose roots were in the earth.”
Favourite Quote in ‘A City of Bells’
“In my experience when people once begin to read they go on. They begin because they think they ought to and they go on because they must. They find it widens life. We’re all greedy for life, you know, and our short span of existence can’t give us all that we hunger for, the time is too short and our capacity not large enough. But in books we experience all life vicariously.”
~ Grandfather from ‘A City of Bells’
You will enjoy this book if you enjoy …
… the books of L.M Montgomery. The nature descriptions of Goudge do remind me a lot of Montgomery’s beautiful nature writing.
Also the quirks in Goudge’s characters, although quite slight, are very enjoyable to me and remind me slightly of Dodie Smith’s quirky character drawings in ‘I Capture the Castle’.
I read ‘A City of Bells’ with the Elizabeth Goudge Book Club on Instagram.