I couldn't remember why I added Swan in the Evening by Rosamund Lehmann to my book list and I was vaguely annoyed with myself for having added it and was curiously reluctant to read it. (Usually I'm eager to read new books on my list.) It wasn't available at any local library and I considered deleting it from my list altogether, but my literary OCD wouldn't allow that. I found a cheap used copy on Amazon, and I was surprised by the pleasing appearance of the slim hardcover when it arrived. Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover.
Rosamund Lehmann was a British novelist, born in 1901. Swan in the Evening is a memoir, although a fragmentary one. (The subtitle is "Fragments of an Inner Life.") The first part describes various pivotal scenes in her privileged Edwardian childhood. The most vivid of these is when she allows her baby brother to take a drink from a perfume bottle and then, from the nanny's thoughtless choice of words, believes she has killed him.
Part two is a bit about her life as a writer and part three is about her grief and intense spiritual and psychic experiences after her twenty-three year old daughter Sally died of polio in 1958 after moving to Jakarta with her husband. I remembered, after reaching part three, that I had added this book to my list after reading The Perfect Stranger, by P. J. Kavanagh, Sally's husband, which had in turn led me to Swan in the Evening. I realized that my reluctance to read it was because I didn't want to read something--no matter how nuanced and well-written--about the death of one's child.
I'm glad that I did read Swan in the Evening, because ultimately, it was comforting. Achingly sad, but hopeful, as the focus turns to "surviving death" and the afterlife. Lehmann's experiences after her daughter's death suggest that there continued to be a bond and communion between the two of them. She doesn't attribute this to any particular religion, but is also careful not to steer a purely secular course. She mentions "bigoted atheists" who might be inclined to mock her experience, but also feared organized religion, which might have told her she was sinful for believing what she did. Lehmann is absolutely convinced that there is existence after death, and I agree with her, although I'm unsure of its form.
I'm also glad I've read Swan in the Evening because now I've discovered another British novelist to obsess about. Lehmann wrote nine novels. The first, Dusty Answer, was published in 1927, and was somewhat scandalous, as it referenced lesbianism. I will definitely be seeking out her novels.