**spoiler alert** This as I remember was not as long as the other SVH books, but in compensation there was a near-sex scene in the beachhouse between...more**spoiler alert** This as I remember was not as long as the other SVH books, but in compensation there was a near-sex scene in the beachhouse between Bruce Patman and Liz, who has changed personality after a bump on the head. If she hadn't got another bump on the head and decided not to go through with it, this book would have got five stars.(less)
I learned from this book what espresso coffee and Paris Match were. I had never heard of them before. Jessica's attempt to make herself over ends in f...moreI learned from this book what espresso coffee and Paris Match were. I had never heard of them before. Jessica's attempt to make herself over ends in failure, of course, because God forbid she should change or develop in any way - that would upset Liz - but her journey brought some sophistication into my own life. Thanks Jess!(less)
The Greengage Summer is about children but not a children’s book. I’m not sure how to classify it: it’s somewhere between YA and general fiction. In a...moreThe Greengage Summer is about children but not a children’s book. I’m not sure how to classify it: it’s somewhere between YA and general fiction. In a nutshell, Cecil (Cecilia) Grey narrates the story of what happened the summer she and her siblings spent at a hotel in the Champagne region of France.
There’s no one to supervise them because their father is absent on an expedition and their mother falls ill as soon as they arrive in France and spends several weeks in a French hospital, leaving the children in the care of an Englishman staying in the hotel, Eliot, who turns out to be a rather unsuitable guardian.
The children are spoiled and insular, and their mother intended to educate them with visits the French battlefields and war graves. In the event they don’t go near a battlefield and their education comes through the discovery of alcohol, cigarettes and adult sexuality. That makes it sound a more racy book than it is: the narrative brilliantly evokes the significance of small milestones like a first taste of champagne.
The book was first published in 1958, but I wasn’t convinced that the setting was the 1950s. The references to the war could as easily mean the First World War as the Second World War – appropriate enough to a book which is all about ambiguity.
While England and the English are repeatedly associated with the colour grey (the family’s surname is grey; the children arrive at the hotel dressed in their grey flannel school uniforms; the wallpaper in Cecil’s bedroom at home is a ‘grey-blue pattern’) France is associated with the colour green. Green is associated with fertility and, by extension, with sexuality. The hotel proves to be a hotbed of various passions and the cat is put among the pigeons when Cecil’s beautiful sixteen-year-old sister, Joss, comes downstairs after a period of illness and immediately attracts the attention of Eliot – to the fury of his lover, the hotel owner, Mademoiselle Zizi. Which brings us to another thing associated with green – jealousy.
Instead of doing the sensible thing and poisoning a greengage, then dressing up as an old crone to get Joss to eat it, Mademoiselle Zizi starts to let herself go – drinking too much and forgetting to put blush on – which doesn’t help matters. But if she is playing the Wicked Queen to Joss’s Snow White, then Joss (who in two scenes admires her own beauty in the mirror) begins to aspire to queenship herself.
Joss’s discovery of her new power is very quickly followed by the discovery that it has limitations. She can’t make Eliot commit to her – he continues to play her off against Mademoiselle Zizi. There are ways to deal with this kind of behaviour: you can turn elusive, ending phone calls after a few minutes by gaily announcing that you have ‘a million things to do!’ Or you can drop the man in question. (Moppet recommends dropping him). Joss makes a different choice – a choice which will have far-reaching consequences for all concerned. She and Cecil learn the hard way that (to use another food metaphor) they can’t have their cake and eat it – the privileges of adulthood come with dangers and responsibilities attached.
Bottom line: insightful and evocative coming-of-age story.