29 Jun Review -The Great Godden
The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff, reviewed by Dymphna Flynn
Every summer in a holiday house by the English seaside our unnamed narrator and their family fill their days with games, laughter, wholesome outdoor activities, and this year, they’re planning a wedding. But this year is also different as the family welcome the two glamourous teenage Godden brothers, Hugo and Kit, as their house guests.
The Great Godden has a beguiling narrator, who is the eldest of four children, and they draw the reader in with ironic humour and an observational eye as the dynamics of the group unfold. As well as their name being a mystery, their gender is never revealed, plus several of the other characters have gender ambiguous names like Alex, Tam, Mattie and Mal. It all adds to the intrigue of the two brothers, who are visiting from LA, and who are the sons of a minor movie star. Described as light and dark, the sensually entrancing Kit has a golden tan and sun bleached hair, while Hugo is aloof and surly. The brothers barely speak to each other.
This is a world of old-fashioned privilege which I found enticing, with its nod to the Great Gatsby, a charismatic mysterious character, and the hot summer in that novel when everything went wrong. There’s the big house and grounds overlooking the sea, the narrator and their telescope, watching over the assembled cast. Meg Rosoff’s writing is completely immersive and with her spare prose she recreates the heightened feelings of first love perfectly, her characters sometimes uses strong language as real people do, plus she can describe tennis matches, sailing and a gymkhana without ever losing the reader, all the while building tension as the days roll into one.
Just out in paperback, this is the perfect summer read and is much more than a holiday romance story. Rosoff has said in an interview that she wanted to write about a summer in her own life when everything changed and she realised she was no longer a child; so there are big themes at play in this coming of age story like awakening desire and sexuality, trust and gaslighting, manipulation and the bravery of being honest. This addictive story of first love and sibling rivalries in a gorgeous summer setting is highly recommended for older teenagers, and adults, alike. I absolutely loved it.
Dymphna Flynn is a judge on the 2021 Costa Book Awards (First Novel). She reviews books on Instagram @dymphnaflynn and on BBC Sussex and Surrey radio and produced BBC Radio 4’s Bookclub programme for 20 years.
The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff. Publisher: Bloomsbury