Madeleine L’Engle – 1945
Katherine Forrester has a few strikes against her – a slight limp resulting from an injury in her toddler years, a mother who is absent for three years before returning to Katherine’s life, and social awkwardness that makes life terrible at her Swiss boarding school. (This is a recurring theme in Ms. L’Engle’s fiction, perhaps because the author herself attended boarding school in Switzerland. )
What Katherine has going for her is an innate musical gift as a pianist, inherited from and cultivated by her pianist mother Julia Forrester. She’s also got some pretty powerful people in her corner – Aunt Manya, who is a renowned actress and Julia Forrester’s best friend who eventually becomes Katherine’s step-mother (it’s not as weird as it sounds), her father Tom Forrester, a gifted composer, and more than one music teacher.
Although this coming of age story was published in 1945 and is set mainly in the 1930s, it’s not your typical mid-century American fiction. There’s lots of ocean travel between the US and Europe, peculiar boarding school goings on, older men hitting on Katherine when she’s as young as fifteen, and a weird, seemingly homophobic thread (an aspect in more than one of Ms. L’Engle’s books, disturbing to this reviewer) that runs through the narrative from boarding school interrogations to a later visit to a gay bar, which is viewed as “filthy” by Katherine. I’d read the book years ago, but as I have committed to reading or re-reading all of Madeleine L’Engle’s fiction, I listened to the audio version, narrated by Kathleen Gati. I recommend the print version.
While I can’t really call two books a series, there is one more book that features Katherine in her retirement years, called A Severed Wasp. Stay tuned for a review of that book as well; I just started it.