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Angela Young

I loved this book: its impact is so much greater than its deceptively simple prose and brevity. I thought the difference between the three voices was expertly done: the young boy was quite different from the teenager who was different again from the father. They all lived ... and live on in my mind (and heart).

I also loved the way that the house, its clocks and rugs and curtains and wallpapers were characters in their own right, particularly in Bunny’s part: as if they had the capacity to take on his moods and reflect them back to him. And I loved his soaring imagination with his everyday playthings – and his disappointment when they once again became collapsible drinking cups, a ruler and a block of stone when he had seen them as ‘walls, gates … broken parapets and towers’.

The incomprehensibility of death to the teenage Robert was beautifully written too. As was all his teenage awkwardness. And the father’s loneliness in his grief and Bunny’s tears were all almost unbearable: each response so right for each character. But above all the way Elizabeth, mother and wife, features in their lives, is the reason they live their lives, makes her death almost unbearable. How will they live without her? Thank heavens for Irene.

What a wonderful recommendation. What wonderful subtle understated prose. What a wonderful writer. Thank you for the choice, Cornflower.

adele geras

As the proposer of this book, I'm thrilled to bits that both Cornflower and Angela Young have seen eye to eye with me. I think Maxwell is a poet of the ordinary. He can take quite humdrum mundane things and make you see them fresh. And the same with emotions...the simplicity of the language, and the filtering of feelings through tangible, physical things, all well noted by Cornflower and Angela Y, hit you right in the solar plexus each time. Also, books in which the maternal bond is so well explored are often tried but not often done without any sentimentality. And the characteristic Maxwell combination of complete modernity with old-fashioned story telling techniques is there too. I urge all who liked this book to rush out and order TIME WILL DARKEN IT, which I reckon is his masterpiece, though every word he writes is a word in the right place. And he's also someone to emulate. I like the idea of writing a novel from three points of view like end to the man's genius. And he was apparently, a fantastic editor to such as John Updike, Eudora Welty and many others. And, on my edition of the book, very, very handsome!


Maxwell is a true craftsman of prose; every word fits and interlocks, like a jigsaw puzzle. I thought he caught the moods of his characters well. His depiction of grief is searing and,alas, accurate.
I recommend his The Chateau. I read it many years ago and am looking forward to rereading it now.

Peter the flautist

Oh dear, I am going to be again the lone voice who didn't think this book as good as Cornflower and friends. Yes it is well written, the three perspectives approach works well, and I think that the children come across very plausibly. But I'm afraid I don't agree that the book is as subtle as other do; it seemed to me that the impending tragedy was rather to obviously coming. Maybe I'm just too hard-hearted but I didn't respond with deep emotion to the death of Elizabeth despite the negative consequences for all involved. Perhaps for me the characters were too restrained.

However, the whole point (for me anyway) of the Conrnflower Book Group is to get me to read books I would never have considered on my own. I'm sorry I didn't really warm to this one, but I look forward to the next challenge to my tastes and prejudices.


I was so happy to have been introduced to Maxwell, whose work I had never read before. I too really loved this book. Such beautiful, economical prose -- and the way he differentiates between the voices in the three parts was so well done. I really liked the way the three parts worked to make up the whole. It was fascinating to have, first of all, Bunny's perspective on his brother and father, neither of whom he really understands, followed in turn by each of their sides of the story, so that by the end you feel you know them all so well. Each of them feels so deeply, yet each of them is really isolated from the others in their grief. The last part, the father's suffering, was indeed heartbreaking -- I was reminded of the father in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, though this is a very different kind of book. I certainly will look for more novels by this fine author. Wonderful stuff.


I did enjoy this book, particularly Bunny's part. I thought that William Maxwell captured the relationship between a young child and his mother; how Bunny felt better in the kitchen when he began to polish his Mother's name on a spoon. As the story continues through Robert and his father, the sense of guilt and "if only" is very strong. I did feel that the length of the book made me feel that I had not "lived" with the characters for very long. I wanted to know that Elizabeth's children were looked after. I will look out for more of Maxwell's books.

 Barbara MacLeod

This book, and author, were unknown to me and I am glad to have been introduced to William Maxwell. I found it a pleasant, easy read. I think if I had had Cornflower's description before I started the book I might have engaged more with the story and its characters. The setting – America in November 1918 – and the description of how one family was affected by the flu epidemic made it, certainly, worthwhile reading. However, it was the character of Robert that gave me problems. It is mid-way in the story that one becomes aware of his 'affliction'. This happened, I can see, because of the author's device of telling the story through Character A - Bunny, then B - Robert, then C - James. Not knowing about this from the beginning in 'Whose Angel Child' (Bunny) meant the story did not knit right for me.
I loved some of the gentle dialogue, for example, Elizabeth, the mother, states to Robert: "Having a baby" she said to him privately, "is no worse than spring house-cleaning. It isn't even as bad. You don't have to take the curtains down." Wonderful!


Oh, I felt this book cried out for an introduction!

Wanda J

Cornflower, I loved your comparison with a chamber group - very apt. Especially when one considers how each approaches their part from different perspective and voices while staying keenly aware of the others in the group. Tightly written with impeccable timing and phrasing.

Normally I don't enjoy books told with different POV so I was dismayed when it switched to Robert. But Maxwell is deft and understands people's inner working.

Instead of viewing Robert only as an antagonist we learn of his fierce independence, maturity and even kindness towards Bunny - what older brother is able to resist picking on a mama's boy?

The father seemed the weakest but then, he'd been gravely sick himself. I have no doubt that he was able to pull himself together for the boy's sake.

I enjoyed his portrayal of all the people flocking to the home, talking, eating - a flock of sparrows gaily swooping through the air.

My only complaint would be that Elizabeth was too good, too perfect - just not quite real. But perhaps, that was the author's intention.

I'm eager to read more of Maxwell's works.

Mr. Cornflower

I rather enjoyed this; it reminded me a little of Wilder's "The Bridge at San Luis Rey", written around the same time but probaby better known at least to non-American readers. I did take a little time to work out in my own mind the emotional point of balance between the three 'voices' and to that extent I can see why some readers might not engage with the characters immediately (but I dare say that's true of people in real life as well....)

Lisa the Librarian

I too enjoyed this book a great deal. I agree with someone else who said that they don't normally enjoy different points of view in a book. However, in this case I think it was brilliant. In the beginning, coming only from Bunny's point of view, I absolutely loathed Robert. However, after finding out more about Robert, I changed my tune somewhat. It is much like life, I think. It's wise to always remember that we don't really know what someone else is going through or what they're thinking. Great choice! I'm looking forward to next month.


I'm a big fan of Maxwell and agree with others who have also enthused here about 'Time Will Darken It'.
I enjoyed this one immensely, despite the sadness of the story.
As for the construction: the different points of view didn't worry me at all. I was reminded of a prism, through which we see each of the characters refracted differently, so that eventually all the separate parts came together as a whole.
Though it dealt with such a cataclysmic event in the lives of all three males, there was great optimism in the ending, I felt. I think Bunny, Robert and James will, eventually, all be changed for the better, somehow, by the loss of their mother and wife. As though her death and their reactions to it would help them 'find' themselves (for want of a better word) and each other, and eventually become stronger, more whole people.
A great selection for the group, thank you!

Karen Beadling

I've read other Maxwell novels but remember only that I greatly admired his writing style. So spare and economical, revealing by implication. I shed tears for all. Perhaps the remaining family members will be improved by their mother's/wife's loss, but who can tell? For me, the impact on each individual was central and was part of the point of dividing the book into dffferent perspectives. I was grateful to be led into reading this book, too, although it wasn't easy to find.


While I enjoyed this book I felt I understood Peter's caveats, while not entirely agreeing with them since I found the characters hard to empathise with because - I think - of their failure to do so with each other. That the impending tragedy was obvious didn't trouble me: I felt rather that it served to emphasise Elizabeth's vulnerability, highlighting the existing anxieties over a potentially dangerous birth.
I particularly liked Robert's section (although like Lisa, I found him unappealing when we only saw him from Bunny's viewpoint). Robert's discomfort at his aunt and uncle's house was beautifully depicted, his inability to seek comfort with his grandmother the way Bunny was able to, and the wretchedness of his illness with no parents to care for him (loved the image of his aunt standing over the bed at different times of day and night, not communicating but simply giving him medicine).
I liked the way the story "coagulated" as we had each new viewpoint, we began with so many half-understood impressions from Bunny, which were gradually elucidated as we read first Robert and then his father. I thought Cornflower's pinching shoes analogy especially apt, it was a discomfiting read, and I do wonder how they will cope - will Irene's warmth be sufficient to thaw such separateness?


Re Lisa and Geranium Cat's comments about Robert being unappealing seen from Bunny's point of view -- that is the whole point, isn't it? And that was exactly what is so admirable about the book, I thought -- the way we come to understand characters who seem unattractive and incomprehensible to other members of the family. The father, too, who seems so cold and unemotional to both his children,and who proves to have so much feeling. I thought Maxwell did this brilliantly. And unlike those who thought the children unconvincing, I found them both absolutely spot on!


I was a week late in reading the book but appreciate all the comments now that I've had a day to read and think about it. I am definitely on the lookout for more Maxwell. He was only in his late 20's when he wrote this novel and he evokes childhood beautifully-- the awkwardness, the inability to explain yourself fully, the way that everyone lives almost comfortably in his own little world until the center of that world disappears.
Thank you for this book!


My library order took forever to arrive, so I've only just finished it!

One of the things I find interesting about using the technique of different POVs in a novel, is that often the first person introduced this way colours all our perceptions on other later POVs. So it is with Bunny - I really felt for him and thought Maxwell perfectly captured his childish frustrations, particularly with his brother.

Having said that, Maxwell is skilled at making us subsequently sympathize with and relate to both Robert and James, which is quite a feat! In some ways one feels slightly like a therapist, hearing what everyone is thinking/feeling without being able to tell the others because of privacy issues!

I thought this was beautifully, sparely written and am now keen to read more by Maxwell. Since you're all waaay ahead of the game on the Wharton I'll pass and join in again on the next title. Thanks!

Simon T

Finally read and reviewed this. My thoughts on my blog... suffice to say I loved it!

Marybel Tracey

I have come to your book group on line by way of Justine Picardie's blog!!

It was from you that I read about They Came Like Swalllows.Once upon a time I had a wonderful librarian who secreted treasures to give me. Sometimes I picked up gems myself; The Rector's Daughter being one which has gone on to be one of my favourite books.This time I have discovered this masterpiece through Cornflower....Thank you.Beautifully crafted ,full of life and character. A book is especially good when you are sad when it ends and there are no more pages to turn.


So glad you liked it!

Marybel Tracey

I have since bought and read So Long See You Tomorrow.My opinion grows for William Maxwell.So perfectly executed with a well distilled use of words and the whole novel is perfectly pieced together.His honesty is touching

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Please note

  • Sidebar book cover thumbnail pictures are affiliate links to Amazon, and the storefront links to Blackwell's and The Book Depository are also affiliated; should you purchase a book directly through those links, I will receive a small commission. Older posts may also contain affiliate links to one of those bookshops. I am not paid to produce content and all opinions are my own.


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