The Great Godden

  • Meg Rosoff
  • Bloomsbury/Candlewick, 2020
The Great Godden

What if falling in love is nothing like what popular culture promises? This question opens Meg Rosoff’s tensely written new novel The Great Godden. Told from the first-person perspective of a world-weary narrator in their late teens (the gender is not specified), the story follows the arc of a lazy summer that goes wrong in every way.

An atmosphere of doom hangs over the story from the first page, underlined by the sharp contrast between the charismatic golden boy Kit Godden and his brooding, lurking brother Hugo, who arrive unexpectedly to disrupt a family’s traditional summer seclusion. Kit quickly takes up with the unnamed narrator’s sister, Mattie, brutally toying with her and leaving her panting for his attention. In the background, a wedding is being planned for another couple. The narrator’s detached fascination with this ceremony of conventionality clashes with their malicious glee at Kit’s bland manipulation of Mattie. The narrator’s unrelieved ennui and passivity, though frequently annoying, makes a fascinating comment on the experience of contemporary teenage life and leaves the reader to ponder who the monsters among us really are.

I enjoyed this novel, as I enjoyed Rosoff’s earlier, Printz-winning book How I Live Now, but it is certainly not a novel for every taste. Like its narrator, the novel yearns to be taken seriously, even cherished, but ultimately it is a trifle, to be used and put aside: not so much a tragedy as an anti-comedy. Some readers will be frustrated by the elliptical narration, others by the doomed romance plots. I minded the under-developed siblings Alex and Tamsin, who despite their quirky characteristics — Tamsin’s into horses, while Alex is into bats and creepy-crawlies — serve mainly to make filler dialogue and advance Kit’s plotline. But for readers who like a closely observed novel of manners — for these are such privileged children — The Great Godden should prove clever and delightful.