I'd had Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs in my sights for a while as so many visitors here had recommended it, and I'm not sure why I chose it as the first book for my Kindle except that it felt as though it would be a lovely way to begin a new reading experience, and so it proved to be.
Less a novel and more a series of interlinked sketches of a fishing village on the Maine coast in the last years of the nineteenth century, its strengths seem to be in its author's heart and her feeling for what is inside a person: the inner life which may never be obvious but which informs so much. The unnamed narrator is a young woman who spends the summer in Dunnet Landing lodging with Mrs. Almira Todd, "landlady, herbgatherer and rustic philosopher", and through her she comes to know the small, isolated community and begins to hear the rhythms of its people's lives.
This may sound a bit 'safe' and 'homely', for example, many events are remembered, referred to, not directly experienced within the narrative, so it's a book of recollections and observations, but the pen portraits of the people who feature show every line and mark of a life having been lived, and the stories told are every bit as affecting in their gentle, reminiscent style as if they'd been taking place, starkly, right in front of us.
So we meet an elderly captain who had "overset his mind with too much reading" [a lesson to us all] whose voyage to the far north gives rise to strange experiences, and a widower fisherman who still mourns his wife but finds solace in his neat-as-a-pin home, and his off-season custom: "I lay in my winter's yarn an' set here where 'tis warm, and knit and take my comfort." There are others, too, who have grown to fit their lives, accepting, adapting and finding the peace that allows a settled existence.
"In the life of each of us ... there is a place remote and islanded, and given to endless regret or secret happiness; we are each the uncompanioned hermit and recluse of an hour or a day; we understand our fellows of the cell to whatever age of history they may belong."
Nostalgic, comforting, heartening, this is a book to savour and return to.