Reading Europe: The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden (1958)

According to the author, The Greengage Summer is true, or at least partly so. In 1923, when Rumer Godden was fifteen years old and her elder sister Jon nearly eighteen, their mother announced,

  “We are going to the Battlefields of France and when perhaps you see the rows and rows of crosses for those young men who gave their lives for you, it might make you stop and think of your selfishness.”


In the Author’s Preface to my copy of the book (a lovely Folio Edition that I picked up for $3 in a secondhand book shop 🙂) she gives a brief outline of her childhood experience that became the basis for The Greengage Summer. In the book the two girls were called Joss and Cecil and they were aged 16 and 13 years respectively. Godden had two younger sisters and the book replaced them with three young siblings, Hester, Willmouse and Vicky.

The Greengage Summer is narrated by Cecil and I nearly gave up on the book in the first chapter until I realised that the thirteen year old’s perspective was so well done that it coloured the whole narrative and seemed to jump around in the telling. I’m very glad I persevered as its quite an unusual story overall as well as a rather scary look at five children who were basically left to their own devices in a foreign country. With their mother very ill in hospital after an insect bite became infectious on the trip to France and their father somewhere unreachable in Tibet on a botanical expedition, Joss and Cecil are thrust into an adult world in post war France - living in a French hotel alongside some questionable characters, expected to pay their way, look after their younger siblings and get by with their limited experience of life - they were quickly initiated into the vagaries of human nature.

Joss’s beauty complicated matters. A jealous Mademoiselle, her enigmatic lover who becomes infatuated with Joss; a feral young waiter and then a murder, The Greengage Summer is a combination of mystery, deception and coming-of-age that depicts young people trying to navigate the world of adults before they're ready for it. Added to all this is a good smattering of French throughout the narrative.

A tense read at times but it resolves well, and I have to say I LOVED THE ENDING!

The Greengage Summer wasn’t published until 1958 and it would be ten years later that Rumer Godden officially converted to the Catholic Church. Several of her later novels dealt with women in religious orders, for example, In This House of Brede, which is a very different book to The Greengage Summer.

Linking to the 2021 European Reading Challenge: France


Comments

mudpuddle said…
i've never read any of Godden's books altho i've heard of him... this one sounds terrific!
reese said…
This does sound interesting. Thanks!
Carol said…
Hi Mudpuddle, I think she's had a resurgence in recent years, like Elizabeth Goudge, where their books have been reprinted. I read somewhere that in Goudge's case, bloggers have helped project her writing into the spotlight after years of neglect.
Godden's childrens books are quite popular, too.
Carol said…
You're welcome, Reese. :)
Brona said…
Lucky you picking up a Folio edition for $3!!
I keep hoping to find some second hand Persephone's here, since travelling to the UK is still far far away.
Carol said…
I've only ever seen two or three Persephone Books 2nd hand.
Did you know you can get some of them at Book Depository - a bit on the expensive side but occasionally they reduce the price:

https://www.bookdepository.com/publishers/Persephone-Books-Ltd
Sharon Wilfong said…
LIke Mudpuddle,I've never read this author, but am now intrigued. By the way, have you changed blog sites because of Feedburner becoming inactive in June?

I need to change my website too and I'm afraid I'm going to lose all my subscribers.

What exactly did you do?
Carol said…
Hi Sharon, you could open a mailerite account for free and transfer all your subscribers from feedburner to that. You have to semnd out emails, which is a bit if a pain but it lets you add 1,000 addresses. I also opened a free account with follow.it. and put a sign up sign on my blog. I cant get rid if the feedburner sign up yet - maybe that will disappear once feedburner goes??
If you go on to feedburner & download all your subscribers follow.it will allow you to transfer 100 subscribers for free and then new subscribers can follow you using the follow.it thing.
I tossd up moving to Wordpress - a friend told me you can transfer all your content quite easily but I don’t want the hassle of trying to figure out a new system right now. Cleo @ classical changed over to wordpress and just left a post with a link to her new site.
Some bloggers are using bloglovin’ or feedly.
Hope this is helpful.
Brona said…
Thanks for the tip, but I don’t use book depository/Amazon, so I guess I’ll just have to keep my eyes open in seconds hand bookshops ☺️
Cleo said…
I read one Godden book, a children's book, once and I found it so weird that I haven't read another one of hers again. But I've heard good things about her writing so I guess I should try again! I won't pass by her books anymore when I see them. Thanks for the review!
Carol said…
Hi Cleo, I'd recommend 'In This House of Brede.' It's lovely.

https://journey-and-destination.blogspot.com/2019/03/in-this-house-of-brede-by-rumer-godden.html
Erin said…
I remember when I first read this book I thought it quite strange. My first book by her was This House of Brede, which I LOVED! So Greengage was odd. It was only later that parts made more sense.
Carol said…
Thats why I almost gave up on it, Erin. I’ve just finished another book of hers which was lovely & will post about it soon.

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