Book Reviews

The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden | Book Review

The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden | Book Review The Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden
Genres: British Literature, Fiction
Original Publication Date: 1958
Source: I purchased this book
Find the Author: Website, Goodreads, Amazon

Rumer Godden’s wonderfully evocative novel The Greengage Summer is set in the champagne country of France during that “hot French August” sometime during the 1920s. Mrs. Grey brings her five young children to a hotel in the French countryside for the summer. But when she is struck down by a sudden illness and hospitalized, the siblings are left to fend for themselves. They soon meet a charming Englishman, Eliot. Eliot’s interest becomes more and more focused on the eldest of the Grey children, sixteen-year-old daughter Joss.

Summer in France

The Grey family has arrived from England to go on a learning trip to see the graves of the soldiers of The Great War. But on the way, the mother becomes very ill and when they reach France she must go to the hospital.

The hotel they stay at must now take care of the children.

Joss, at age 16, is on the verge of womanhood. She is becoming a real beauty, and at first unaware of the effects of her looks on men.

As the book progresses, she becomes more aware of the power of her sexual attractiveness over men.

Cecil is the second oldest. She is 13 and becoming very observant. The book is told from Cecil’s POV.

Hester is the next in line and very close to Cecil.

Willmouse is a young fashion designer in the making. He loves to sew and dress up his dolls. No one ever questions this.

Vicky is almost five and mostly interested in food.

Children On Their Own

The children are suddenly thrust into an adult world they do not understand. Sexual tension permeates the air. The two proprietors of the hotel are Madame Corbet and Mademoiselle Zizi, who are lovers.

One of the guests is a charming Englishman, Eliot, who becomes the temporary guardian of the children. Zizi is now also the lover of Eliot, and Corbet is very jealous.

There is also the kitchen boy, Paul, who vacillates between kindness and anger toward the children.

During the first week, when Joss is in bed suffering from the effects of her period, the four younger children roam freely about the French countryside. It is mostly idyllic.

Final Analysis

But when Joss emerges from the bedroom and starts taking meals in the dining room again, all the men notice. Especially Eliot.

The children at first all love Eliot. He treats them well and takes them on little trips.

But occasionally his behavior is strange. Sometimes he is suddenly cold toward them. When they go on a champagne tour, he abruptly makes them leave.

Is Eliot hiding something? What is his true nature?

Even though Joss is the unknowing catalyst for setting the turning point of the book in motion, she does that without any understanding of the power of her allure. She has no idea of the consequences of her actions, which she comes to bitterly regret.

No one writes a more descriptive and evocative atmosphere than Rumer Godden.

The heat of the French summer, the heady scent of waxy flowers, and the tantalizing aromas of food are all vividly described.

The Greengage Summer is one of Rumer Godden’s most successful novels.

It was made into a successful film in 1961, which is known as The Greengage Summer in England, but as Loss of Innocence in the United States.

The whole film used to be on YouTube, but now there are only clips:

If you enjoyed this post, please read my review of The Summer Book by Tove Jansson and Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki.

Thank you for reading The Literary Lioness!

About Rumer Godden

Rumer Godden OBE (1907–1998) was an English author of more than 60 fiction and nonfiction books. Nine of her works have been made into films, including Black Narcissus and The River.

I love books, writing, film, and television.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.