Christmas is a time of such busy-ness, rushing to make everything as perfect as it can be, that it's a relief to be able to sit down at last and enjoy some reflective reading. Mirabel Osler's memoir The Rain Tree has proved to be the perfect calm contrast to all the hurrying and scurrying, and it was with regret that I finished it this morning because I have so enjoyed the author's quiet intelligence, her eye for detail, her sense of humour and her refreshing and generous spirit.
Now in her 80s, Mirabel Osler is perhaps best known for her writing on gardens, including the book A Gentle Plea for Chaos, but the autobiographical slant of The Rain Tree reveals her innate curiosity, her keen observation, and her awareness and deep enjoyment of so much of life. Here she is, as she says in the preamble, 'Janus-faced, looking both ways [at] love and death, ends and beginnings', and in recounting particularly meaningful episodes, or describing people whose significance to her was and is great, her recollections and her philosophy of life take elegant shape on the page.
With her family Mrs. Osler spent many years living abroad, in Thailand and then Corfu, and her vivid portraits of these countries and the many friendships found and founded there are in themselves examples of fine travel writing and of poignant personal stories. In Thailand, the Oslers adopted a young girl, Sureen, and the essay which describes this process, both its emotional element and its practical side, is among the most moving in the book.
Elsewhere, Mirabel Osler talks with great feeling which is always measured in its expression, of loss, and she describes 'the caul of quietude' some months after her husband's death when grief was released and 'some interior deliverance surfaced'. She goes on to list the books at her bedside now, the 'non-confrontationl' ones which allow her some escape. But taking together the retrospection and introspection which make this memoir, the happy times and those clouded with deep sadness, it is above all a guide to a life well-lived, a warm and considered study of transience and impermanence, an open-hearted acceptance of change, and an appreciation of good things found, sometimes, in unexpected places.