The Greengage Summer

The greengages had a pale-blue bloom, especially in the shade, but in the sun the flesh showed amber through the clear-green skin; if it were cracked the juice was doubly warm and sweet. Coming from the streets and small front gardens of Southstone, we had not been let loose in an orchard before, it was no wonder we ate too much. 
'Summer sickness,' said Mademoiselle Zizi.
'Indigestion,' said Madame Corbet.
I do not know which it was, but ever afterwards, in our family, we called that the greengage summer.

I don't know how many of you managed to join the group read of the Greengage Summer by Rumer Godden because it's not exactly easy to find copies. Please let me know if you've reviewed it and I'll link to your blog or to your web page. I found my pristine 1959 hardbound copy at a secondhand bookstore. I was actually hunting down another Godden novel, In this House of Brede. Instead, I found the Greengage Summer which turned out to be a fabulous find. 

The story is set in a French countryside pension, where five young children are left alone after their mother is suddenly taken ill. For the first time in their young lives, they are absolutely free to run around and do exactly what they please and they revel in it. There's something to be said about idle childhood summers. Somehow they always turn out to be the most memorable, don't you agree? The children are befriended by a young Englishman called Eliott who appears to be romantically linked to Madmoiselle Zizi, the proprietor of the pension. What follows is a haunting summer where the children suddenly come of age in different ways. The story is told from the point of view of the second oldest child, thirteen-year-old Cecil who narrates her impressions about that unforgettable time. She also observes the growing attraction between her beautiful sixteen-year-old sister, Joss, and Eliott, which will ultimately lead to tragedy. 

On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages. Joss and I felt guilty; we were still at the age when we thought being greedy was a childish fault, and this gave our guilt a tinge of hopelessness because, up to then, we had believed that as we grew older our faults would disappear, and none of them did.

This is a book that grows on you. Whenever I read something about Godden, images from the book come back to me. Flashes of that summer, lying on the grass eating the greengages, having the first taste of champagne and exploring the countryside. I think it's memorable because Godden's writing is very visual and her descriptions intoxicating. Cecil's impressions about her surroundings, her family and the people at the hotel are  realistic and innocent yet at the same time they show shades of growing maturity. Because she is still a child on the brink of adulthood, she doesn't notice everything. As an adult reader you somehow see what's under the surface. This is a novel about the thoughts and views of a child in an adult world and the misunderstandings that result from it.

I thought the Greengage Summer was a sensitive and bittersweet coming-of-age novel. It's a book I'll definitely return to from time to time. Did you manage to join the group read? I look forward to reading your reviews.

Bookheaper co-hosted the group read. You can check out her review here.


  1. I agree about the intoxicating writing in this. I loved it even more the second time I read it for this group-read. And I love the cover on your copy. Mine's a jacket-free 1958 copy in plain dark green and ivory, but I prefer reading hardback versions of novels of this vintage - the typeface is so much nicer. I will definitely be looking out for more Rumer Godden.

  2. I didn't read this am very soorry to say as it sounds absolutely wonderful. A read that devours you as you devour it from what you and bookheaper seem to be saying. How wonderful. Sometimes golden oldens are the best.

  3. I so wanted to join this group read, but my library hadn't got a copy, and neither had my parents. :( It sounds wonderful! I love Rumer Godden and have never read this one; didn't even know what it was about. Sigh.

  4. My copy is an old, yellowed, large print edition from the library. It was the only one I could find. I'm about half way through :)

  5. Thanks so much for inviting me to read along--I loved this book. Intoxicating is really a good word--that's just what her descriptions are like and I love that first quote about the greengages! I posted on it, too. I'll be revisiting this one and reading more of her work, too!

  6. I am tempted. By the way, it's still in print, available as a paperback from Pan; Unabridged (14. Mai 1993).

  7. I've got a 1958 library copy from which I will write my post but am going to try to get hold of a post-1993 reprint at some point because it has a forward by Rumer Godden about her inspiration for the book - about which, having just finished it, I'm very curious!

    My Tuesday Teaser this week is from The Greengage Summer - two sentences I'll be coming back to in the review.

  8. I am about 3/4 of the way through and am anxiously awaiting what I know to come. I can feel the hot sticky air of summer yet bristling with the building of things to come. I can feel the tension in the air; can't you?
    I love Godden's style of writing. I find her very comfortable and easy to read. I will be looking for more of her works.
    Will be back when I finish the book.

  9. I found the book rather intriguing and am already seeking out more of Rumer Godden's books at my local library. Some of the French language was a little beyond me, but all in all I thought this was a great choice for a group read. And thank you to our hosts for organising this!

    Since finishing the book, I learnt it was made into a movie (also called 'The Loss of Innocence') in 1961 starring Kenneth More and Susannah York. Has anyone seen the movie?

  10. @digifish_books - Glad you managed to read it. Yes, I know it's a film but I couldn't find it anywhere. It would be interesting to hear from someone who's seen it.

  11. I am a huge Rumer Godden fan - I have probably read In This House of Brede five times. A good friend of mine has recommended Rumer Godden's Thus Far and No Further, which is my next Godden book to locate.
    I had never heard of The Greengage Summer, and it also took me some hunting to find a copy. I finally found a copy on Amazon Used and was delivered the 1974 Avon edition, the cover of which is so funny I had to share it - I scanned it to my blog:

    Wow, it brought me back!
    Anyway, I found the book an enjoyable read - I loved how the imagery took me away to France in the summer - a great escape.
    It was great in the tradition of all great coming-of-age novels, and especially reminded me of Atonement, in terms of a younger sibling watching an older one discover sexuality. It also reminded me of a foreign film I just watched called The Seagull's Laughter, about a young girl in a rural town in Iceland who watches the exploits of her worldly cousin newly returned from America.

    Thanks for suggesting the group read - I would never have read this otherwise.
    Has anyone actually eaten a greengage?


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