The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson was a joy to read. The prologue sets up the characters very nicely starting with our heroine, Ruth Berger who starts the story off as young girl curious about the world around her and we watch her grow up to be this passionate young woman in love with a pianist named Heini, who makes her his “starling”.
British paleontologist Quinton Somerville is a colleague of Ruth’s father, who comes to briefly visit the Berger’s one summer. Quinton is a brilliant young scientist/student whose reputation is well known around the world. The Bergers are a close knit family with their daughter Ruth being the center of their world. Life is good until Hitler marches into Vienna and everything changes forever.
After the Nazi’s march into Vienna, the family makes arrangements to leave never realizing that Ruth is not able to secure a passport to leave Vienna due to her political views. Quinton, visiting Vienna to receive an honorary degree realizes that his colleague and esteemed friend has been let go. Furious, he declines the awards dinner looking for the Bergers only to find that the Bergers had left everything behind in their home – including Ruth who is hiding there until she is able to find another place to stay.
Quinton immediately tries to figure out a way to get Ruth out of Vienna and fails to get her a passport. Desperate, Quinton offers Ruth “the morning gift” of departing and seeking a annulment once they reach England. It was the only option available to make her a British citizen. Once Ruth gets to England and settles in, she is encouraged to attend University. When she enrolls, Ruth finds that she is being transferred to Thameside where Quinton lectures. Ruth signs up for the paleontology class that Quinton teaches and the talk of Quinton’s reputation makes for much excitement and anticipation. Ruth is also very nervous at seeing Quinton since both agreed not to see each other again.
Students and staff as well as other society folks come to Quinton’s lectures. As well as the Vice Chancellor’s daughter Verena Plackett who always seem to have a seat reserved for her in each of her classes except Professor Quinton’s class where it is jam packed. When Quinton gets back from his expedition to give his first lecture, Ruth tries to be inconspicuous but Quinton immediately spots her in the back row. He halts for only a second and then proceeds to lecture. Ruth is captivated by him. Meanwhile, Quinton’s lawyer, Mr. Proudfoot announces to Quinton that an annulment is not so easy to procure in England and goes about trying to find some way for the two to divorce.
Meanwhile at Thameside, possible complications arise when the two of them are together and Quinton reluctantly lets her stay in college with him and finds that Ruth is very well accepted here with the students as well as the staff. Ruth never realizes how popular Quinton is or how important he is as a staff member of Thameside. It is while Quinton is away that Ruth learns a lot about Quinton and how well respected he is as a scientist – and also a great catch, too.
Ruth’s rival in the course is Verena Plackett, the Vice Chancellor’s daughter who snubs her as a lab partner on the first day of class. Verena is this annoying stuck up society girl who after each lecture, thanks her professors on behalf of her parents. She reads all the right books and studies hard – a brain whose ambition it is to snare Quinton Sommerville since he is the “right sort of people” that her family is searching for, for their daughter. As I mentioned earlier, Verena and her mother have their sights set on Quinton Sommerville and it is fun watching Verena try to get Quinton’s attention while he continues to be indifferent to her.
Quinton and Ruth don’t really get any privacy together until they go to their field course in Northumberland – Bowmont which is Quinton’s home. Both protagonists open up to each other and fall in love. Their romance is very believable and magical in a way. There is one memorable scene when Quinton rushes to his lawyer to say that he wants to stay married to his wife. Whatta guy. I found Quinton the kind of hero that I love: smart, well respected among his peers, always helpful (never refusing refugees to University or help them find work) and seems oblivious to his reputation and his good looks. one of the best heroes I’ve read in a long time.
This was a very engrossing read. The characterizations were well fleshed out. You knew these people. Ruth and Quinton both were memorable but it is Ruth who really shines. When she gets to England, she anticipates Heini, her fiance’ and tries to take up a collection for his piano. Working at the Willow Tea Room – everybody knows about Heini and his piano, thanks to Ruth. Ruth is a very talkative young woman who makes friends easily and just has this bubbly nature about her. I liked her a lot.
As refugee’s, her family made due with what they had despite that they are living well below what they were used to in Vienna. The anguish the Berger’s felt when they learned their daughter was still in Vienna was crushing and their joy at seeing her again – was blinding. It’s clear that their future is in their daughter, Ruth. And they go out of their way for the things that matter for their daughter’s acceptance by her peers. The Morning Gift is unfortunately out of print. However, it’s not a perfect book. There were times I could have put it down and forgot about it. The book did make quite a few plot turns that were unpredictable and it is only when Quinton and Ruth are finally together in England – that I got hooked into the story. The dialogue was nice, the writing was very fluid and ambitious (only words that come to mind). It is not a book that will have universal appeal but for me it was a great find. I enjoyed it very much.
Added note: Quinton Sommerville is pretty young when he first meets the Bergers in Vienna. I didn’t want other readers to think that he was too much older than Ruth when they meet again. I’m still learning to write reviews with as much clarity as possible. This is not a May/December romance for those who are averse to such plots.