Monday, 16 November 2009

Sun, summer, sex and greengages?!

After learning that Mrs B was planning to read a Rumer Godden title for the Women Unbound reading challenge, we discovered a joint love for The Greengage Summer also by RG. So we are inviting anyone who wants to to join in on a group read (or reread) of the book. Do get in touch if you would like to join in with this; we hope to post about it in January.

Rumer Godden wrote a lot of fiction, for both adults and children, and her own life reads a bit like a novel. She spent most of her childhood and a large part of her adult life in India which gave her an observer's eye for people and incident. As a young woman, she ran a dance school in India, but then had to get married when she found herself pregnant. Her first marriage failed and later she lived in Kashmir where her cook tried to poison her and her daughters by mixing ground glass, opium and marijuana with their food.

Unlike many of Godden's books, The Greengage Summer isn't set in India but in France where a family of children (unencumbered by parents) are spending the holidays in a hotel. They are merely tolerated by the staff and the hotel owner, Mademoiselle Zizi, but are then taken under the wing of Mademoiselle Zizi's charming but enigmatic English lover, Eliot, who makes the 'greengage' summer memorable in more ways than one. Simmering away against the atmospheric background of a French heatwave is the sexual tension between several of the older characters, with the narrator, Cecil (a girl) just beginning to understand about adult emotions and desires, particularly those of her older sister, Joss:

Joss and I had always been the Big Ones, as Willmouse and Vicky were the Littles, with Hester in a no-man's-land between. Joss and Cecil, it had been one word though it had meant I had sometimes to be older than I conveniently could; now I was relegated to no-man's land myself. I could see it was inevitable - thirteen is not child, not woman, not .... declared, I thought, as Joss was now - but it hurt.

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