Green Dolphin Street was an emotional roller coaster. I found it hard to write a review that doesn't give anything away, because it would be better for everyone to discover the unfolding petals of this book themselves. It’s like an opening rose; it was joy (and occasionally agony) to step across each petal until the center of the ending was reached, where everything came together, with all its full-blown fragrance.
Most books are add-ons to life: you read them and they capture your surface attention, but you’re always conscious of your real life. Green Dolphin Street: not so for me. It became a part of my life while I was reading it, and now that I’m finished, I miss it. I feel like I do when I return home from a great trip.
To start with, I’ll be using the original title, Green Dolphin Country, because it’s a better name. (Thank you to Lory at Emerald City Book Review for pointing this out!) If you read the novel, you’ll discover the idea of a “country” has far more relevance than just the street where the characters grew up.
Elizabeth Goudge has an incredible ability to immerse readers completely in the world of her novels, Green Dolphin Country no exception. You see and understand all the major characters, inside and outside. You see and sense their beautiful and powerful surroundings. You travel their spiritual journeys with them. And they always learn such profound things about God that you can’t help but be affected, too.
Green Dolphin Country follows the lives of three people, sisters Marianne and Marguerite Le Patourel and their friend William Ozanne, from childhood to old age, beginning in 1834. Marianne is strong, controlling, and extremely competent, creative, and intelligent. But she lacks love—and most of the fruits of the Spirit, actually. Her younger sister Marguerite is naturally happy and joyful, however. She loves life and people and people love her. William, whose age falls between the two, is loving, loveable, and easygoing. With their parents, Octavius and Sophie Le Patourel and Dr. Edmond Ozanne, and a raucous and long-lived parrot called Old Nick, they enjoy living on an island in the English Channel (Guernsey, I believe, though it’s never named). The sea is also a constant companion throughout the story: One of my favorites scenes is when Marianne and William visit a docked ship called the Green Dolphin and meet Captain O’Hara and his first mate Nat, who tell them about New Zealand.
Years go by and exact changes. Marianne and Marguerite both fall in love with William. William embarks on a Navy career, but because of an unfortunate occurrence in China (the only part of the book that even hints at sexual immorality, in case you’re concerned about that), ends up as a settler in New Zealand. In New Zealand several other wonderful characters are introduced—wild pioneer Tai Haruru (one of my favorites); zealous missionaries Samuel and Susanna Kelly; and Maoris Hine-Moa and Kapua-Manga. William writes home for one of the sisters to marry him and mistakenly asks for the wrong one. I didn’t read the back cover synopsis, so I didn’t know which sister he really loved and which sister he ended up with until I reached those scenes in the story. Talk about suspense!
Emotions run high in this book. A significant portion of the middle gave me heartache, but I was desperate to see how the characters got through it. Though Marianne was a challenge to like, I found her the most interesting character of all. She had gained my sympathy at the very beginning, as a vulnerable, self-conscious sixteen-year-old. The path she took to learn humility was the biggest character arc in the book. William and Marguerite had their difficult journeys, too. I was especially inspired by Marguerite’s life and how she learned to pray and “practice the presence of God.” From Marianne I learned the ugliness of self-will and how to give up control, and from William how to love, even when it looks impossible.
In certain situations I wished the Gospel was presented a little more clearly, but for readers who understand the Gospel message, what the characters discover is satisfying: humility leads to repentance leads to reconciliation with God. Something I really didn’t like, though, was the prevalent use of the d- swear word, but it wasn’t enough to banish any of my delight in the rest of the work.
One of my favorite things about Goudge’s writing is how skillfully she uses symbolism and repetition. Objects, situations, and lessons wrap around and weave in and out of this story, forming a weighty unit that captivates you from beginning to end and furthers the feeling that you’re living the characters’ lives with them. It reflects the fact that individual lives have patterns and cycles. Some of the novel is meditative, other is vividly tense (such as the Maori war!), but all of it is told in a descriptive and lyrical manner that is yet highly accessible. The length is perfect; I wouldn’t have it any longer or shorter.
If you’re in the mood for a rich, deeply involved, and transforming read that deals with all sides of humanity, beautiful and not-so beautiful, do yourself a favor and read Green Dolphin Country!
For a look at what the theme “Green Dolphin country” is about, please read this review by my Goodreads friend!
Have you ever read Green Dolphin Street? What did you think?