The Greengage Summer

I came across an article by Hugh Schofield about the author Rumer Godden. I’m not sure many people these days know of her, maybe people of a certain age who remember her novels, and maybe mostly remember only a couple, The Greengage Summer and Black Narcissus. I read the The Greengage Summer – or maybe heard it read or dramatised on the radio, before I was as old as the narrator, Joss Gray. Her very name captured my imagination – well, names, both Rumer Godden and Joss gray. I was fascinated then as I am now by names! If it was through reading that I first came to it, it was no doubt because of the title; some of my earliest memories are visiting my grandma in the house she and grandpa then lived, which had a marvellous collection of fruit trees in the front and back garden, the best of which were the greengage trees. I’ve never tasted fruit like it – I daresay time has enhanced the flavour, but they were large and sticky and sweet with a wonderful flavour.

The Greengages summer is the story of Cecil, a young girl who, with her brother and three sisters spend one glorious summer in France. They are virtually abandoned as their mother is taken ill and has to stay in hospital and they are looked after by the owner of the hotel, Madam Zizi,  and her English lover, Eliot. The novel is classically described as ‘a coming of age’ novel, and in a way I don’t want to give more details in case you haven’t read it and intend to do so! The story is told by Cecil, who observes her older sister gradually becoming a young woman, and the effect her stunning beauty has on Eliot. This story line is very different to us now as readers, With our modern perspective of an older man and a sixteen year old girl. I think I have confused some of my remembered details with another book which I read when I was very young, and again heard first on the radio, at the time, ‘The Honey Siege’ by Gil Buhet. I’ve ordered that as well to reread!

Back to Rumer Godden, with the unusual name – born Margaret Rumer Godden in 1907 i Eastbourne, she spent her early life in what is now Bangladesh, where her father worked for the Brahmaputra Steam Navigation Company. As with most English children whose parents lived in India at the time, she and her sisters were sent back to England for their education. She led a very exotic life by our standards and must have been a writer long before she had her fist book, Chinese Puzzle published in 1936, when she was twenty-nine years old. Her life continued to be extraordinary, and I’m wondering now if there is a biography or autobiography of her experiences and adventures. In 1968 when she was sixty-one she moved to Rye, a beautiful town we visited several years ago, and are due a return visit! Later she moved to Moniaive in Dumfriess and Galloway, Scotland. If our lives had been different, we too would have moved there, and how surprised I would have been to find one of my childhood writing heroes as a neighbour! She died in 1998, at the age of ninety.

Here is a link to Hugh Schofield’s fascinating article about Rumer and The Greengage Summer:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54526146

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