The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson

Eva Ibbotson has been on of my favorite authors as a young teen; I remember borrowing (and loving) The Secret Countess and A Company of Swans from a friend, and from then on Ibbotson has been right up there with J. K. Rowling — and believe me, for a Potterhead like me, that’s a high honour.

Anyway, I could go on about finding a copy of The Morning Gift in the school library completely by accident, seeing the familiar cover and immediately going to the front desk to check the book out so that I could re-acquaint myself with the novel, but what I really want this post to be about (apart from procrastinating for an English Lit. essay that I have to write) is the love story between Quin and Ruth.

Quin is a college professor and he first met Ruth as a child in Vienna. Years later when the threat of Hitler forced Ruth’s family to emigrate out of the country, Ruth is left behind with only Quin to help her. Complications arise and in the end Quin decides to marry Ruth in order to safely get her out of the country and into England, his homeland. By marrying her, Ruth is therefore becomes an English citizen.

It all seems to be straightforward, doesn’t it? Ruth spends time with Quin,s he falls in love with him and he falls in love with her… but there’s this annoying little tick in the form of Heini, Ruth’s childhood sweetheart. He’s a piano virtuoso and can be very irritating (you know how artists can be… such divas!).

Now, I fully understand that some characters have a role to play. Only a couple weeks ago my English Lit. class has covered Vladimir Propp’s theory on stock characters, and I can totally see Heini as The False Hero. Or The Villain, but that sounds more like Verna Plackett with her quest to gain Quin’s attention and be his wife. Moving back to Heini and his relationship with Ruth, I just can’t wrap my head around how on earth a sweet, intelligent and somewhat otherworldly girl like Ruth could ever see Heini — selfish, self-centered, pig-headed — as someone she truly loves.

I know love is blind and everything, but come on! The guy refuses to pay rent, even though money was scarce. He spends waaay too long in the bathroom, and he bosses Ruth around like an assistant! That isn’t the way a man treats his amour!

*takes a deep breath*

But I understand — really, I do. Heini’s role in the story was to set Ruth on her way to Quin. After arriving in England, Ruth and Quin didn’t act like a newly married couple. They barely acted like they were friends, to be honest. Quin returned to his teaching job, which coincidentally had Ruth as a student. This part was kind of exciting with the prospect of forbidden love and everything, though Ruth and Quin being married made it all legal.

As time passed, Quin began to see Ruth as the woman she was, not the silly little girl he met in Vienna; he has fallen in love with her. Of course, Ruth was still as silly as ever, but throughout the story you could see her transition from girl to woman. Anyway, when Heini wanted to really “make her a woman”, awkward situations arose and Ruth ran to Quin’s open arms — figuratively speaking, that is. Ruth now understood why she wasn’t able to be with Heini: it was because she didn’t love him. How could she? He wasn’t right for her… that git.

The story progressed on from there, though what really interested me was the gradual progression from “family friends” to “lovers” that Ruth and Quin’s relationship evolved into. I won’t say that it was all very romantic, for the knowledge that WWII was looming over their horizons and the effect it had on the characters provided a sense of heaviness. I suppose it’s simply the romantic school girl in me, but there were some parts of the book that I absolutely swooned over. In chapter 25, for example, Quin said to Ruth, “What I’m going to do now, is kiss you.”

The context, of course, was that Ruth wanted a divorce in order to be with Heini. She was hysterical about it, and I knew that deep in her subconsciousness she never really loved Heini. That’s why she’s making excuses for her behavior — specifically, as my more modern peers would so eloquently phrase it, “not putting out.” But the way Quin took charge, it was so… Anyway, Ruth, suffice to say, admitted her love for him. How could she not? There’s a whole hero complex going on: falling in love with her savior and all that rot, yeah?

So there you have it, a story of a middle-aged bachelor and a young woman falling in love after they get married. A bit twisted, but there you go. Love is blind after all, isn’t it?

The Morning Gift is a wonderful read, and it was enchanting to be able to re-read it again. It’s really surprising what a few years can make, because I remember reading the book for the first time two, three years ago… I remember being swept by the love story then, and not to say that I wasn’t swept by the love story now but with the few nuggets of information I’ve gained from experience and my English Lit. classes (hey, I’m actually learning!!), I realize I have approached the book from a completely different viewpoint.

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