Susan Hill

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In the Springtime of the Year

Hill, Susan

Last Updated: May-18-2007
Annotated by:
Ratzan, Richard M.

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel


In the Springtime of the Year opens with the death of Ben Bryce, a young man in his 20's whom we only get to know posthumously but one who has clearly left his imprint on all who knew him. Dying as a result of a freak accident--an apparently healthy tree suddenly falling on him--Ben, as a friend notes, "had been at one with things" (62). The death, happening so unexpectedly and to such a young man of promise, leaves his small rural English community eerily stunned. "People felt changed, as by war or earthquake or fire, even those who lived closest to death and knew its face" (56). As Moony, the same friend, remarks to himself, "it was no ordinary death" (63). Ruth--his young wife--she is 7 or 8 years younger--begins a grieving process that occupies the rest of the novel, beginning with the news of her husband's death in early March until the last page in December.

Although the attention the author pays to Ruth's grief is extraordinarily close, there are other events external to her grief that occupy her and the reader's gaze. Ben's family is equally devastated but hampered in their effort to perform grief work by an egoistically blinkered and unimaginative, selfish mother who has ruined her grown daughter's life, stultified her husband's, and only failed to affect her two sons, Ben and Jo, by dint of their physical and mental exodus, respectively, from the household. Jo, at fourteen (he was exactly half Ben's age at the time of the accident) is precociously generous, supportive of Ruth, and self-sufficient. Indeed, he is the most wise character in the book.

Ruth's attempt to make sense of her husband's tragic death; the usual small town happenings in the village; and Ruth's eventual emergence from her grief, partly as a result of her helping others suffering these small town hardships--all form a tightly knit story that centers around grief, tragedy, and humans' attempt to impose meaning on life's often unfairly dealt hand.

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