Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs is the kind of writing I have a deep ambivalence about. On one side, I genuinely enjoy reading such aware, thoughtful observations of and interactions with a region and its people, and this exploration of the small coastal community of Dunnet’s Landing is firmly within my longstanding “gardening” category of literature. On the other, I question the real value in this kind of quiet, objectless narrative, no matter how lovely the vignettes. I wouldn’t argue that the book isn’t about anything, or that its social and domestic themes are unimportant, but for such a well-made piece of work it just doesn’t seem to add up to as much as I would like it to, I guess.
It is well-made, with many of the qualities of good travel-writing. Jewett’s descriptions are one of the main draws; town and country, flora and fauna are finely rendered.
When I thought we were in the heart of the inland country, we reached the top of a hill, and suddenly there lay spread out before us a wonderful great view of well-cleared fields that swept down to the wide water of a bay. Beyond this were distant shores like another country in the midday haze which half hid the hills beyond, and the faraway pale blue mountains on the northern horizon. There was a schooner with all sails set coming down the bay from a white village that was sprinkled on the shore, and there were many sailboats flitting about it. It was a noble landscape, and my eyes, which had grown used to the narrow inspection of a shaded roadside, could hardly take it in.
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