The Ballad and the Source by Rosamond Lehmann

This colourful novel has the capacity to take the reader on a remarkable journey, but the unusual narrative structure means that an emotional distance is maintained throughout. The stories of romance, insanity and war are told to a child by unusual characters who seem at best partly conscious of their own filtering processes. The result has a pleasant whiff of Woolf or Mansfield, but the apparent commitment to Modernism is watered down by a nostalgic move back towards Romanticism, while the elaborate plot has arguably something of James about it.

‘The Ballad and the Source’ has a captivating strength, but it lacks the sheer power of ‘The Weather in the Streets.’ The emotional intensity of the latter work makes that novel a genuine contender for masterpiece status.

Several of the novels of Rosamond Lehmann have an autobiographical element. Nonetheless, to read her work is to be in the presence of a vivid imagination. ‘The Ballad and the Source’ is no exception to this rule and it is highly recommended as a summer read in particular. It is a story composed in part of remarkable voices which have a haunting quality:

“Sometimes in dreams voices speak suddenly like this, empty ventriloquist voices making trivial statements whose tremendous meaning appals us.”

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