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The Christian Science Monitor: "I haven't read a bad, or even mediocre, book by Gardam yet, and God on the Rocks offers plenty of the wit and humanity that are her trademarks."

Date: Dec 30 2010

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3 more 2010 novels you don't want to miss

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Crumbling ruins loom large in this late 2010 fiction roundup: There's a castle haunted by a madwoman and a mystery, a derelict race track that's the setting for this year's National Book Award-winner, and a once-stately manor home that now houses the insane and infirm.

 

-- Yvonne Zipp, Monitor fiction critic

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God on the Rocks


Another daughter learns about her mother's childhood in Whitbread winner Jane Gardam's God on the Rocks, which was a finalist for the Booker Prize when it was first published in 1978. It was only briefly sold here, and US readers should take their first chance in more than 30 years to become acquainted with Margaret Marsh.

 

It's between world wars, and 8-year-old Margaret is getting her first glimpse of the world beyond Turner St. and her family's strict Primal Saints church. While her mom, Elinor, nurses her baby brother, Margaret and the new maid, Lydia, head for the seaside, where Margaret goes exploring the rocks and woods and stumbles on a manor house now operating as a lunatic asylum. (Lydia has, um, other pursuits.)

 

Instead of being scandalized by their earthy maid (or horrified by the neglect of his child), Margaret's dad views Lydia as a prime opportunity to bring a sinner to repentance. The once-placid Elinor, meanwhile, takes Margaret with her as she reconnects with two old childhood friends, Binkie and Charles, who she was raised with until they left for Cambridge and she went to work at the post office. None of the characters (except Lydia) is terribly self-aware, but Gardam has more than enough subtlety and insight for them all.

 

I haven't read a bad, or even mediocre, book by Gardam yet, and “God on the Rocks” offers plenty of the wit and humanity that are her trademarks. American readers like me who found Gardam through her later novels, such as “Old Filth,” should probably just hunt down her entire backlist, but “God on the Rocks” is a fine place to start.