Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The camomile (Carswell)

After I wrote about Open the door, JRSM highlighted Carswell's other novel, The camomile: "which was wonderful, about an unconventional Frankfurt-trained music student living in Glasgow in the early '20s. Great stuff.". I liked the sound of it, so got myself a cheap copy from Amazon. And I'm pleased to report that I enjoyed it just as much, if not more as Open the door.

Told through letters to her friend Ruby, and journal entries, also written for Ruby, the book is the semi-autobiographical tale of Ellen Carstairs, a young woman living in Glasgow who is a talented pianist and makes her money by teaching music. But she also has ambitions to write and a happy social life, all of which are described and reflected upon in the book. Ellen is vivid character who is considerably enlightened in her views; for example she feels sad that the wedding of one of her best friends seems more about pragmatism and practicality than driven by love. When she herself becomes engaged she is forced to really think about these issues and whether or not she wants to be bounded by convension.

It's shame Carswell didn't go on to write any more novels - she moved into biographies, writing a life of Robert Burns and then the life of DH Lawrence, who was one of her great friends.

This one has been published just the once by Virago in an original green cover, and I would definitely describe it as one of the hidden VMC gems.


  1. This is definitely a VMC I have been wanting to read (mainly because of its Glasgow setting!) so glad that you found it a hidden gem.

  2. Another of my favs. I think I have this one - I guess I was lucky to start my Virago collecting 20 years ago!

  3. I've got this on the shelf waiting it's moment. I just love the cover - it has to be one of my favourite Virago covers ever!

  4. So glad you enjoyed it! I really wish she'd written more fiction.

  5. This sounds great: I love books told in letters and/or journal entries as they seem to pull you right into the story.