So far my posts on this blog have been general comments on my feelings about books and reading. I knew I wouldn’t critique most of the books I’ve read. There are dozens of online reviews on books – professional critiques, book blogs, reviews in Amazon, Goodreads, etc., so I never felt obliged to include my opinion about anything I read. Most of the time I either like or don’t like a book. If I especially don’t like it, I don’t bother to finish it. Unless something about a book strikes me in a special way, it isn’t in my nature to elaborate on it. I either think it’s an OK book, enjoy it, or like it a lot. I may briefly comment on a book in my own, personal book list, but rarely go beyond that.
“The Worn Doorstep” by Margaret Pollock Sherwood, is an exception. I found this book online when searching for a chapter or two of World War I related prose to be included in LibriVox’s second volume of that war’s centenary collection. Searching for fairly short pieces of online fiction, I found reference to this book on archive.org in a book written in 1921: “European War Fiction in English, and Personal Narratives: Bibliographies”. Several items seemed a good fit for the LibriVox project, but “The Worn Doorstep” especially stood out. I downloaded it from Gutenberg and began reading through it, looking for a section or two that might be appropriate for the project.
In a very short time I knew that I wanted to read this book for myself, not just for a project. It is a relatively short book, often pleasant and humorous, sometimes sad and poignant. The story begins with a letter which the main character is writing to her fiancé:
“August 25, 1914. At last I have found the very place for our housekeeping; I have been searching for days: did you know it, dear? The quest that we began together I had to follow after you went to the front…”
The book continues as she describes the anticipation and frustration of finding a home, until she finally finds one that will suit them:
“How fortunate, and how unusual, in so small a house, that the hall leads all the way through from green to green! We shall get all the breezes that blow, for the house faces the west, as all houses should face; and always and forever we shall hear the stream. There’s a step there at the back, down to the garden walk, that you must remember, you who are so absent-minded.
“… I keep forgetting that you are dead.”
That last sentence hits like a velvet hammer. What seemed to be a letter to her fiancé at the front is her journal, written after the news of his death.
As the journal continues, her grief is evident:
“I have been away for a week, a week in which I have not dared leave one moment unoccupied. To keep my sanity, I must be busy all the time; life cannot be cut short in this way. When great forces have begun to stir within you, like the gathering of all waters far and near, you cannot safely stop them all at once; I must have, in the weeks to come, some outlet for this surging energy.”
As time goes on and the writer copes with everyday living, it becomes evident that the chaos of war has become a big part of life. Everything changes as men leave for the front, news of far away battles reaches everyone and, most of all, war refugees become part of everyday living.
As the writer opens up her home to some of the refugees who cross her path, their lives, fears, sorrows, happiness, deaths and births become part of her life and the lives of those around her.
As she changes and grows, she writes in her journal:
“Loneliness seems forever impossible since you went out and left the gate ajar, and all the world came in, and all its sorrows. The griefs that enter, in some strange way solace my own, and this increasing sense of the anguish of the world is lightened and lifted by sharing it with other folk.”
This isn’t the type of book that a person tells friends about, saying “You have got to read it. It is so exciting!” It isn’t that at all. But it is a very good, well written book. It’s a book that will make you think, a book that you will remember and, quite possibly, one day read again.