The Other Side of the Sun by Madeline L’Engle
published in 1971 • text from the 1972 Fawcett paperback printing
With the 50th anniversary of A Wrinkle in Time coming up in January. Madeline L’Engle has been on my mind. Her adult novels are not as touted as the Time Quartet, but The Other Side of the Sun deserves the attention of any L’Engle fan. Though it’s something of a departure in tone from most of her other books—it’s a Southern Gothic, full to the brim with melodrama and set mostly in 1910—the novel contains such traditional L’Engle elements as guardian animals, the juxtaposition of religion and superstition and a strong belief in the power of love and the existence of evil.
Just-wed Stella Renier arrives at her husband’s family’s ancestral South Carolina home alone. Her husband, Terry, is on a diplomatic mission, and she must meet his family on her own. But memorizing the family tree isn’t enough to prepare Stella for what she finds when she reaches Illyria. Though the Civil War is nearly 50 years past, its scars remain, and Stella struggles to understand the complicated social structure and history of her new home and family. The consequences of not doing so may be deadly.
L’Engle based Illyria on her own family’s ancestral home in South Carolina—and even named one of the main characters, Mado, after her own grandmother. The Southern setting comes to life in all its humid, sultry glory, mirroring the simmering tension between the generations of the Renier family.
Coffee was served on the veranda. We waved our palm leaf fans back and forth, not so much against the heat now as against the insects which fluttered about, strange, delicate creatures with long legs and translucent wings, unlike anything I had ever seen in England.
“Sugar, honey?” Aunt Irene asked me. “Cream?”
Clive passed me the small white and gold cup. His jacket shone white; the rest of him faded into the shadows on the veranda.
“I’m going to get my knitting,” Aunt Mary Desborough announced. “No, Clive, I want to do it myself. I’ll be right back. Three sugars please, Irene. Two is not enough. You never remember.”
Aunt Irene leaned across the coffee table to me. “The aunties,” she whispered, “you’ll have to forgive them. They’re quite senile. Hoadley and I are only glad we can take care of them.”
Aunt Olivia had been rocking placidly, slowly waving her palm-leaf fan to and fro. She stopped. “Clive and Honoria take care of us.”
“Auntie—” Aunt Irene started.
“Clive and Honoria. Make no bones about that. This is Honoria’s house, Irene. I wouldn’t forget that if I were you. Honoria allows you to spend your summers here—”
Aunt Irene rose in agitation. “Auntie!”
Uncle Hoadley, lighting a cigar at the far end of the veranda, moved towards us.
“Miss Olivia.” Clive bent toward the old lady. “Your coffee. Half hot milk.”
Illyria belonged to Honoria?
What are you reading this week?