The Great Godden
‘A summer journey full of intrigue, love, deceit and betrayal’
Kitty Parker reads Meg Rosoff’s clever and ambiguous novel in advance of our Families in Fiction session. Laura Parker adds a few words about Charlotte Mendelson’s brilliant The Exhibitionist.
Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden is a captivating coming-of-age novel that initially lulls the reader effortlessly into a rose-tinted summer spent with a family and friends on the English coast. Fiancés Hope and Mal are “ring-leaders in all things summery – drunkenness, indiscreet conversations, all night poker,” and we are transported to warmer climes with the whole group. However, the jovial and simple fun is disrupted when a film star’s son, Kit Godden and his brother Hugo, join the holiday-goers.
The story is peppered with Shakespearean references and our narrator’s identity remains ambiguous throughout the novel, a clever deliberate move from Rosoff who wanted her readers to have the freedom to decide on their gender. Initially our narrator comes across as envious of the attention the whole family pays to Kit, but we later learn of their own yearning for him. Kit is a Jay Gatsby character; enticingly, alluringly charming and wins over the heart of younger boy-obsessed sister Mattie first. As we discover, and much like the Great Gatsby, this view of Kit as a golden boy wears off as his nonchalantly manipulative behaviour is gradually exposed.
Each of the well-developed characters are relatable in their own way, and Meg Rosoff manages to accurately capture the mind of an intelligent and ever curious yet stubborn teenager, who takes us on a summer journey full of intrigue, love, deceit and betrayal.
The flawed characters who people The Exhibitionist are part of a memorably dysfunctional family that lives beyond the page. Think Royal Tennenbaums, the Succession Roys. But more subtly painted. Although Ray, the patriarch and once well-known artist at the centre of the book, around whose comeback exhibition the plot revolves, is a monster, others, including daughter Leah, are mysteriously loyal. His wife Lucia is a much more talented artist who has learned to submerge her ambitions beneath his for years. Until recently. Following a traumatic health event along with the discovery of his final infidelity, she finds herself launching into a wholly unexpected relationship that makes life very interesting indeed. Lucia is poised to relaunch herself into the latter part of her life – if only she dares – and her complicated family only serve to make it more fun. Caustic, cautious, serving, longing: I found Lucia, with her unconsciously self-deprecating humour and cynical thoughts, a magnificently relatable character.
Meg Rosoff and Charlotte Mendelson will be in lively conversation with interviewer Alison Gomm at 2pm on Saturday 29 April.