Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publishers Weekly chose Grief Cottage as one of its best books for 2017. I'll second that, but if you check the reviews at Good Reads, they are mixed.
FIRST SENTENCE: "Once there was a boy who lost his mother."
The first sentence makes it clear to me that this remembered coming-of-age story, dealing with grief and loss, is part fairy tale and part ghost story .
THE STORY: When his mother dies suddenly, eleven year old Marcus is sent to live with a reclusive elderly relative on an island off South Carolina. Aunt Charlotte is an artist and points out a derelict house she has painted for years. 50 years earlier a family living there was lost during a hurricane. Marcus becomes fascinated with the family and their son since he cannot find their names in any of the accounts of the storm. His other fascination is with the turtles the community is guarding as they prepare for their birth and trek to the sea. These are his memories of the people and that summer.
WHAT I THOUGHT: I think my recent problem with lack of interest in reading may have more to do with the books I chose than reading itself. Godwin's writing fulfills all my requirements. I want to learn something new and I want the story to be told with great craft and skill. Godwin is a master. It's been many years since I read Finishing School, but I still recall being entranced. One reviewer on Good Reads mentioned the slowness of the story but isn't that the point? Every story has its rhythm.
When I was eleven (or so), I walked home from school rather than take the bus so I could explore a mansion that was in the processing of being torn down. I can still remember the fascination of exploring the many rooms and wondering about the lives of the people who had lived there.
In college I wrote a paper about Henry James' The Turn of the Screw. Godwin even mentions this work in her note to the reader. For me, it's better not to be sure. When my father died, I ended up sleeping in his bed after attending the funeral. In that twilight before falling completely asleep, I felt a comforting hand adjust my blanket. I have always been sure that my father was saying a final good-bye.
There are so many ways that this book triggered memories for me. Even the characters suggested adults I knew growing up.
FAVORITE QUOTE: "I went back and tried to track the whole thing from the beginning, as you would trace on a map a route taken."
"Didn't something have to be one thing or the other, either real or imagined? Or could it be that the two things weren't mutually exclusive?"
"When we don't realize how remarkable someone is while they're still with us. Then after they're gone we wish we had told them, but when they were around we didn't know yet."
BOTTOM LINE: This was an amazingly satisfying read full of stories and interesting characters that are themselves mysteries. There's a languid pace to the book, which doesn't stop it from being totally compelling. By the end Godwin has carefully tied up all the threads of the stories, even those the reader might not have been expecting. Highly Recommended.
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition (June 6, 2017)
Disclaimer: An electronic copy of this book was provided to me by NetGalley/Bloomsbury USA for a fair review.
Gail Godwin is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including Unfinished Desires, A Mother and Two Daughters, Violet Clay, Father Melancholy's Daughter, Evensong, The Good Husband, and Evenings at Five. She is also the author of The Making of a Writer: Journals, 1961--1963, the first of two volumes, edited by Rob Neufeld. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She has written libretti for ten musical works with the composer Robert Starer. She lives in Woodstock, New York (from Amazon).