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3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  537 Ratings  ·  85 Reviews
Marigold Green calls herself 'hideous, quaint and barmy'. Other people calle her Bilgewater, a corruption of Bill's daughter. Growing up in a boys' school where her father is housemaster, she is convinced of her own plainness and peculiarity. Groomed by the wise and loving Paula, upstaged by bad, beautiful Grace and ripe for seduction by entirely the wrong sort of boy, she ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published May 6th 2001 by Abacus Books (first published October 14th 1976)
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Jan 17, 2017 Chrissie rated it really liked it
Another book I would not classify as belonging to the young adult genre. Sure, teenagers can read this but so can adults. Should one classify all books about young adults as YA books? My answer is no. Furthermore, in this book the focus is not merely on the young ones but the adults too.

Three central components of all novels are:
1. The language, the dialog, the words used.
2. The story told, i.e. the plot.
3. How all the different parts are drawn together, the novel’s construction.
In this book it
Jack London
Dec 16, 2013 Jack London rated it it was amazing
I swear that Jane Gardam could write the instructions for using computer software and it would be the most entertaining reading of the year. Working, instead, with the daughter of a widower who is headmaster at a backwater private school for boys, Gardam creates a painful, funny, and nuanced portrait of a girl who comes of age without a single female friend and succeeds, although in the process she lives through what would otherwise be the making a blooper reel of every dance, date, and prospect ...more
Jul 26, 2015 Lukerik rated it it was amazing
I would have read this in one go but I had to repeatedly stop because I was laughing so hard. Right from the start, that bit about the teacher who cannot face forward, and later the bit where Bilge finds she's walked right through the house… these things will never leave me. Gardam has a way of making me know what something must look like without actually describing it.

I also loved the Cinderella set-up. I grew up watching Star Wars (my name's Luke, so you can see what my parents had just seen,
Danielle McClellan
Jul 20, 2016 Danielle McClellan rated it liked it
The least interesting book of one of the best writers I know. That said, Gardam is a master, and I grudgingly found myself enjoying this madcap ugly duckling tale despite its quirks and its tut-tut-cheerio OTT characters. Feels as if she was going for Lucky Jim and ended up instead with Fawlty Towers. But cornball, meandering plot aside, I am awfully glad to see anything reissued by this talented author.
Aug 26, 2016 Featherbooks rated it really liked it
One of my failings as a writer is that I begin a book with attention to the author's descriptive details, her dialog, her scenes from beginning to end and I brush the edge of learning but then I lose my critiquing way. I started Bilgewater with much admiration for all of these writerly skills and then became involved in the story such that I never took note again. Every time I put the book down, I couldn't wait to pick it up again. All of my fondness for English life in novels resurfaced and I w ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 26, 2016 Jane rated it really liked it
Loved this engaging ugly duckling story set in a British boarding school - and yet my
hackles rose a bit at the class consciousness that underlies the whole thing. Being Oxbridge
material: fine. Being a gent: ditto. Being a dotty professor: charming. Being a Dorsetshire nanny:
quite all right. But being the son of two alcoholic dentists? Gah.
Janet Elsbach
Aug 09, 2016 Janet Elsbach rated it really liked it
Rompish and smart and very digestive biscuits and third form Oxbridge hilarious until it all falls apart in a Fawlty Towers kind of way towards the end but you have to forgive it because if you like mucking about among terribly smart chaps who are aces at rugger, this is (forgive me) just your cup of tea until then, plus who doesn't love a tidy ending, which is where it eventually lands.
Jan 21, 2009 Yvonne rated it really liked it
Just got this book back from a friend. While I don't recall many details, I do remember liking the main character quite a lot (a motherless girl circa 16 years, struggling to fit into her own skin).
May 26, 2012 Linden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a re-read as I love Jane Gardam. An awkward girl living in a boys' school where her father is a housemaster grows up.
Zoe Hall
Feb 11, 2017 Zoe Hall rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 3-stars
This book was recommended to me by my colleague and I'm glad she did. I've never read any of Gardam's work but she writes with such ease that the writing just oozes off the page like a conversation. A gem of a book and a lovely story.

'There are days that you remember as perfect and which in fact were nothing of the kind. They grow better with the telling and more beloved with the years'.
Jul 03, 2016 Lynn rated it really liked it
The first Gardam I read was "Old Filth," and I said to myself, "She really gets older people." Then I read the other two books in the trilogy, which continued with many of the same characters, wonderfully.

Next, I tried "The Hollow Land," which has children as main characters, and I said to myself, "She doesn't only get older people. She also gets kids." Likewise "Bilgewater."

This is a sensitive portrayal of a kid who's a misfit all around. She's brought herself up, largely, with no real friends,
Feb 11, 2015 William rated it really liked it
Certainly not Gardam's best, but then again, it was written almost forty years ago. Much of the brilliance of her later works can be seen here. She has an eye for social nuances and the various types of folk who live in England. Her wit is certainly already well-formed.

The coming of age aspect of the story has real charm, and the book is a fun read. But the plot is silly, almost a Feydeau farce, with characters intersecting in odd and unlikely ways. Many of Bilgie's choices make no sense, and wh
Sep 05, 2011 Karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011, young-adult
I looked for this book after hearing it discussed in a BBC Podcast, and I am so glad I did. It is a lovely story of a young girl brought up in an almost exclusively male home environment, at a time in her life when she is changing from a child to a young adult. She has no feminine grace, no idea of how to behave or dress, and at school is seen as odd and sometimes stupid. One of the reasons this gentle story appeals to me is that I recognise elements of my own life: insecurities, lack of 'cool' ...more
Aug 13, 2016 Carlton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
An endearing coming of age story about Marigold Green (Bilgewater) set in a seaside town in North Yorkshire in the 1970's.
The world in which the story is set feels almost historical, being written over 30 years ago, and the characters appear almost naive in their inability to understand emotions (indeed, this may be because Marigold's mother died in childbirth and Marigold may be autistic, having a great mathematical mind, although she does not know how she does it).
This is my second reading and
Sep 18, 2014 Fiona rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
4.5 really. It would have been a 5 if it hadn't turned into a farce towards the end.

Jane Gardam is marvellous at evoking memories of the discomfort and confusion of growing up. It's not for those who were prom queen or voted most popular or who were captain of the hockey team or head girl. It's for those of us who identify with Janis Ian's song 'Seventeen'. Marigold Green is completely uncomfortable with her own self when we first meet her. Through time, she comes to realise that she maybe does
Apr 13, 2015 Sandy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
What a shitty site goodreads has become! How disappointing after such a promising beginning! This book is here only until I can switch everything away... But where to? Is Leafmarks really going to be any better? Faint hope!

Jane varda is a good writer. She takes the minutia of life and makes it a prominent element of the story. Bilgewater is a girl caught up in the minutia because that is her world, insular, small, narrow, unexplored by circumstances of her upbringing. And Gardam brings it that w
Jul 22, 2010 Hallie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Hallie by: Hirondelle
This was just lovely. The wild eccentricity of most of the characters, with as Hirondelle said, a surreal edge, could have made for incredibly uncomfortable reading. But the book seemed to me to steer a very nicely balanced path between sentimentality (which was always avoided) and the kind of harsh humour that makes you feel kind of guilty for laughing (which was also avoided). I can't think of that many books that manage to do this, though I suppose I can't think of many books even remotely li ...more
Jul 17, 2016 Brooke rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: coming-of-age
I was likely unable to fully appreciate this book due to my confusion about much of the British slang and references. I am also the kind of person who gets distracted by typos/errors in texts - and this one had tons. In addition, I could not quite believe the arc of many of the characters' temperaments and choices. I feel like the book could have been significantly longer to fill in missing details that would have helped me truly understand Gardam's intention with some of the characters. All of ...more
Jessica (herself) Nickelsen
Aug 09, 2013 Jessica (herself) Nickelsen rated it really liked it
Poor old Bilgie! She lives at a boys' school with her father and everyone thinks she's a bit mad. But this excellently erudite character has all sorts of hidden depths to her, as well as a wonderful judgemental eye!

It's a great coming-of-age story (a genre I find hard to resist, when well-written), and one I'll definitely be recommending to friends. Sure, it has a real late-sixties feel to it, but that only adds to the overall interesting vibe of this tale...
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
Jun 30, 2016 Rochelle Jewel Shapiro rated it really liked it
I loved the character--quirky Marigold a.k.a. Bilgewater. Humor all through and she reminded me to reread Wordworth and take on Tess D'Ubervilles, which I've been meaning to do anyway. Written simply, but full of insight and crazy suspense. I would have given it four stars, but the ending (no spoiler alert) pivoted around a character so minor that I felt ripped off. Yet I was enriched. Wish I could find more contemporary books as worthy of a reader's time and intellect.
Sally Whitehead
I am clearly missing something here because the majority of the reviews for this book are really positive.

Quaint, quirky and eccentric?

Sorry, all I got was stylistically irritating prose about an utterly alienating cast of one dimensional characters.

It all felt a bit like those times I have had the misfortune of hearing Sarah Kennedy on the radio talking about her utterly unrelatable lifestyle.

Lovely I imagine, if you like that sort of thing. Not for me.
Hà Linh
May 18, 2014 Hà Linh rated it really liked it
This book is just too lovely. It is what many YA novels are, predictable, dramatic and self-indulgent. It has those lovely moments that make you earnestly nostalgic for a time you never live in, for things you never have in your life, necessarily. And it is also what many YA novels can't be or fail to, beautifully constructed, brilliantly written with a terrific sense of humor.
Linda Gaines
Sep 03, 2016 Linda Gaines rated it it was amazing
Jane Gardam is such a good writer. I'm glad they re-issued this novel from 1976. ( Although there are quite a few spelling mistakes). The character Bilgewater is priceless; she is a teenage girl in England but I thought that I knew her. It's a very funny book but also full of emotion of lost and found loves.
Jul 06, 2010 Hirondelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was totally charmed, without expecting to, by this book. A growing up story, a bit like I Capture the Castle but different, slightly surreal and perhaps a more opaque read. But so lovely.

Slightly spoilerish, I am tremendously confused by when the main action is supposed to take place, 1970 really?
Sep 28, 2016 Laurie rated it liked it
Strange book. First one I've read by Gardam. It pulled me in and was intriguingly written but a very disconcerting mixture of stereotypical growing-up as bright but ugly duckling story with fairytale like angles and characters. Everything existing in another kind of world, boarding school to castle to dentist's office and back.
Apr 23, 2013 Ashley rated it it was ok
I've been interested in reading something by this author for a long time--and this is supposed to be her best work, but . . . I started skimming halfway through and lost interest. It's well-written, but I guess I just don't like awkward coming-of-age stories or precocious teenage characters. It's not my kind of book.
Louise (A Strong Belief in Wicker)
I had a bit of a love/hate reaction to Bilgewater. I could tell that Jane Gardam is clearly a good, very intelligent writer. But for some reason I didn't totally love this book. I will read more of Gardam, I'm sure she'll repay the effort.

Oct 27, 2015 Alyson rated it it was amazing
Second time of reading and I still love this book. Gardam creates whole and unusual characters that almost leap from the page. The ending is a series of little surprises with several twists and turns of characters. I like the final chapter which takes you into the future and a sneak look at what could only guess might happen. Beautiful writing.
Jan 25, 2008 Sue rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, read-2003
Marigold is the bright (but dyslexic) daughter of a housemaster in a boys' school. The book is about her teenage years, her growing awareness of how other people live, and her honest thoughts. Oddly written in places, but enjoyable anyway.
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Jane Mary Gardam OBE is a British author of children's and adult fiction. She also reviews for the Spectator and the Telegraph, and writes for BBC radio. She lives in Kent, Wimbledon and Yorkshire. She has won numerous literary awards including the Whitbread Award, twice. She is mother of Tim Gardam, Principal of St Anne's College, Oxford. Jane has been awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for ...more
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“The astounding thing about Paula is that she looks like Tess of the D´Urbervilles, and she sounds like Tess of the D´Urbervilles, and she thinks like Tess of the D´Urbervilles and yet she is so different from Tess of the D´Urbervilles. I expect she comes from a different part of Dorset.” 8 likes
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