Saturday 15 August 2020


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The Great Godden by Meg Rosoff      {Reviewed by STELLA}
Meg Rosoff’s new book for teens is a coming-of-age story that crosses a golden summer holiday with an unexpected sequence of events involving a Patricia-Highsmith's-Mr-Ripley character in the form of Kit Godden. Our narrator, never named and gender-neutral (there are no clues — the reader can decide), child number two in a family of four siblings, is our eyes and ears to this tale. The usual family antics play out as they arrive at their holiday home — the jostling of the siblings, the relief of being released from the squeeze of the car, and that marvellous sense of arrival in a place and pace both familiar and different from home. The holiday has begun and anything is possible. For our narrator, it's a chance to draw and enjoy the beach surroundings, despite their own self-consciousness in comparison to just slightly older sister Mattie, who has become irresistibly gorgeous. Their close family friends, Mal and Hope, have already arrived at the neighbouring house and the summer seems set to be a golden one. And the shine seems even greater with the arrival of Hope’s godmother’s sons, Kit and Hugo Godden. Kit is immediately captivating to the family group, especially the impressionable teens, and from the get-go, you know that trouble follows where this young man wanders. A story of love, lust, obsession, and the ability of a charismatic figure to be a catalyst for emotions and actions that otherwise may have lain dormant, Rosoff’s novel is captivating and unfolds in an unexpected way as the family and friends navigate around each other and circle this young man. Kit and Mattie, unsurprisingly, strike up a steamy summer romance, which to all purposes looks like it will be a classic boy-meets-girl/girl-meets-boy cliche. However, this is not to be, as Kit is more interested in the effect he has on others and the skills he has to manipulate and push others beyond their intentions. Enter, stage left, his brother Hugo, who is, in comparison, surly and antisocial. Here we are given the trigger warning — something is up between these two siblings and the burden that Hugo carries runs deeper than he can articulate. As the summer runs on, the family continues with their often jolly activities and summer traditions, each of the siblings playing out their roles, and the older teens circling each other. As Kit’s affections and attentions move from one to other of the party, including flattering some of the adults, the stakes run high for our besotted narrator, the confused Mattie (Kit’s on-again/off-again games are a tease which begins to wear her down) and the increasingly fractious adult group. Yet The Great Godden isn’t merely a story about a  sociopath but, more importantly, an awakening of a young person into the adult world, the desires that can drive decisions, and the ability to see through facades as well as ways in which to discover meaningful emotional and physical connections in a world that doesn’t always make sense. Excellent writing, with Rosoff’s ability to blend humour with adversity, makes this a compelling and sensitive teen novel with a narrator who you can’t help falling for.    

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