Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lavender And Old Lace by Myrtle Reed

267 pages
Published 1902
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London

"Happiness is not a circumstance, nor a set of circumstances; it's only a light, and we may keep it burning if we will. So many of us are like children, crying for the moon, instead of playing contentedly with the few toys we have. We're always hoping for something, and when it doesn't come we fret and worry; when it does, why there's always something else we'd rather have. We deliberately make nearly all our unhappiness with our own unreasonable discontent, and nothing will ever make us happy, deary, except the spirit within." (Chapter 10, page 147)
To date Lavender And Old Lace stands out as my all-time favorite novel by Myrtle Reed. I loved it.

In a nutshell: this is another classic love lost, love found, love hoped for story by Reed. And like all her works it's also so much more; it has it's share of mystery, drama, and sharp and witty character analysis through description and dialogue. But for anyone expecting just another "boy meets girl" romance this is not that book. It's also not a story about two old women who kill off their tenants like the similarly named Hitchcock film, Arsenic and Old Lace. (No spoiler here, no one is murdered in this book.)

As the novel begins Ruth Thorne, the smart and witty heroine, arrives in a small unnamed seaside village where she is to spend an extended vacation resting (as required by her editor and doctor for her health) and house-sitting for her aunt, who is traveling abroad. When Ruth arrives she is met with one mystery after another. First, after years of near solitude and no traveling what has made her spinster aunt pack up and travel all the way around the world? Then there's the instructions left by her aunt that insist Ruth must place an oil lamp in the attic window each evening until dawn. When Ruth takes time to explore the attic she finds more questions than she does answers. What follows is a story that includes the weaving of several romances -- some lost, some found, some surprising, and some absolutely entertaining. But as the story comes to a close not everything is the typical happily-ever-after.

Still, I believe Myrtle Reed struck gold with Lavender And Old Lace. I loved Ruth's character in this book; she's sharp, witty, and full of spunk. She's also a little unique for the heroines of the early 20th century being that she's a working woman. Likewise, I really enjoyed her male counterpart in the story, Carl. Although their romance was definitely predictable I still loved watching Ruth and Carl's friendship and love develop. They spar and tease and made me laugh out loud. I laughed a lot while reading this story.

I also cried. The ending is a happy one for Ruth and Carl, but it's a tear-jerker in another way, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

As I said, I loved this story. I loved it so much that I ran out and bought a used copy for my own library (available online for as little as $4-$13). But if you're not willing to bite the bullet and pay a few dollars for an ex-library edition there are plenty of other options. You can read the novel online at: Project Gutenberg, Google Books, Public Bookshelf, or Online-Literature. Or for those audio book lovers you can listen listen thanks to

Up next, my review of The Master's Violin by Myrtle Reed (coming in two weeks, next week another D. E. Stevenson novel).

Related Links:

Also, there's little information online about Myrtle Reed's books, but I did discover Wikipedia as an entry for Lavender And Old Lace. But beware! This entry is full of plot spoilers and should not be read until after you've read the book.


Dana said...

I love that first quote, it definitely rings true. This sounds like a great book.

Framed said...

Great review. I'm adding this one to the list.

Amy said...

I've never heard of this author, and yes, when I read your title over at the Saturday Review of Books, I immediately expected this to BE a review of Arsenic and Old Lace.

This sounds like a great book! I'll have to add this author to my TBR list!

hopeinbrazil said...

Thanks for pointing out another lost classic. I hope I can get my hands on it.

Michelle@Fromhousetohome said...

I found your blog by searching this book name. I just found an old copy at the thrift store and although I bought it for the beautiful cover, I was anxious to find out what it was about. I'll definitely be reading it this week.

Anonymous said...

I just made a "purchase request" from our local library and I do hope they buy it or it's in the library system in another city where it can be sent to me. Thanks for bringing all these good books to my attention.