The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff
This is the story of one family, one dreamy summer – the summer when everything changes. In a holiday house by the sea, our watchful narrator sees everything, including many things they shouldn’t, as their brother and sisters, parents and older cousins fill hot days with wine and games and planning a wedding. Enter two brothers – irresistible, charming, languidly sexy Kit and surly, silent Hugo. Suddenly there’s a serpent in this paradise – and the consequences will be devastating.
Imagine having a summer home on the beach, which you visit every summer, for weeks at a time, with your family. Imagine the serenity, the freedom to do whatever you like, no work, no responsibilities, the sun beating down, nature all around. This story is of a family in such a peaceful situation, who soon discover their summer is not going to be like any of the others.
One of the siblings acts as our narrator, and seems to be an omnipresent reporter of chaos and calm. They describe the long family summer which is usurped by two American brothers descending on their party. Describing everything, the family quirks, the rituals, the new strangers, the melancholy, the heartbreak, the narrator remains the one constant. We don’t ever learn their name, nor gender, and this lends delicious feelings of doubt and curiosity to each of their words.
The Godden brothers, the strangers, the deposers, present as two opposites - one, golden and gleaming, possessing charm and good looks, the other darker and brooding, a quiet thinker who prefers solitude and silence. As the elder begins to rip apart the serenity of the summer, the younger tries to overcome his familiar aloof persona to try and limit the damage.
Rosoff’s writing is beautifully light, and she masters her setting, making sure those dreamy summer days amongst nature and the coast seem idyllic to us. And they really did. A summer house on the beach, with nothing to do but swim, sail, ramble, eat, talk. Her prose had the perfect balance of bliss and nostalgia, making me long for a place I’d never been.
I also felt Rosoff did well here with her commentary on toxic masculinity, particularly for a young adult novel. It’s important to highlight the small ways someone can be abused, even gaslit, and despite Rosoff’s other subtleties, I think this message was delivered with skill.
My only criticism would be how short this felt. I wanted to explore more deeply into the characters, wanted a slower and more tantalising build-up to the finale. I felt as though I was just beginning to settle into the novel when it was all over. This didn’t take away from my enjoyment - I just wanted more.
It’s just a wonderful, summery and dreamy read; I was swept away. It felt as though a snake had been thrown into a basket of kittens as I watched, completely unable to anything but watch what unfolded.