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3.84  ·  Rating details ·  1,000 ratings  ·  164 reviews
Originally published in 1977, Jane Gardam's Bilgewater is an affectionate and complex rendering-in-miniature of the discomforts of growing up and first love seen through the eyes of inimitable Marigold Green, an awkward, eccentric, highly intelligent girl. The Evening Standard described Bilgewater as "one of the funniest, most entertaining, most unusual stories about young ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published May 6th 2001 by Abacus Books (first published October 14th 1976)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,000 ratings  ·  164 reviews

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Jan 17, 2017 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
Diane Barnes
Nov 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is my 6th or 7th Jane Gardam book, and she just never disappoints me. Engaging characters, lots of dry humor, well told, surprising plots, everything I need to settle into a great reading experience. This is only her 2nd book, written in 1976, and while some of her later work is more sophisticated and polished, this one took me back to what's it's like to be a confused, sheltered teen-ager trying to make sense of life. Of course, that's impossible without first being used by girlfriends, em ...more
Jul 26, 2015 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,
Jack London
Dec 16, 2013 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
Oct 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This isn’t subject matter I’m likely to gravitate to, young love and confused adolescence. But in Gardam’s hands it’s a solid read, engaging, delightful for any age. It’s true, human, authentically suspenseful, with just enough charm, not too much. Gardam is good for a read that’s as smart as it is effortless.
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully observed, full of the angst of adolescence, falling in love with the wrong boy and being dazzled by the apparent glamour of a rather fickle friend.

Originally written for teenagers, but later reclassified as an adult novel, Jane Gardam's book is so funny, sad and wise that I am sure it could be enjoyed by readers of any age group from mid teens on.
Robert Lukins
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very good, as are all the Gardams I've read. Much lighter and not as rich, complex as her others, but very enjoyable and easy on the heart. ...more
Aug 26, 2016 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
Jul 03, 2016 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,
Danielle McClellan
Jul 20, 2016 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.
Marigold Green is known as Bilgewater, because she is Bill's Daughter. She lives at the boarding school where her father teaches, and is mostly brought up by the school's matron, Paula. She considers herself to be very ugly and unlikable, and spends much of her time alone. However, as the story unfolds, she begins to realise that she had more connections and possibilities than she realised. Set in the lead-up to Marigold's Cambridge entrance exams, this novel is mainly sustained by Gardam's comp ...more
Nov 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lovely story of an awkward girl growing up in a boy's boarding school.

I wish I'd read this as a teenager. I'm not sure how I missed it - I read some of her others and loved them. This one would definitely have been a favourite.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 17, 2016 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
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.
Jun 26, 2016 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.
Elsbeth Kwant
A wonderful and haunting book - an adolescent girl growing up with a donnish Father, who is head of a boy's school. I loved the changing perspectives, which reflect some of the major changes you go through in adolescence. There is a bit of Gormenghast combined with the observational powers of Austen. I very much enjoyed this book. ...more
Dec 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked up Jane Gardam's Bilgewater in a charity shop, keen to get started with her work.  The unusual title and blurb both really appealed to me, and I was further intrigued by the reviews spattered over the cover, which call it variously 'funny', 'deeply moving', and 'lively'.

Our protagonist is the wonderfully named Marigold Green, a young girl growing up in the boys' school where her father is housemaster.  Marigold calls herself 'hideous, quaint and barmy', and is 'convinced of her own plai
Daniel Polansky
The story of a brainy, peculiar tom-boy raised by a bookish, silent father and a beloved nurse/caretaker, and the various troubles she gets into during adolescence. This is a really, really excellent Y/A book, from a time before that was a clearly delineated idea, well-written but conceptually rather limited. I’d give it to a cousin or a niece or something and they’d love it and carry it around and dog-ear the hell out of it but I didn’t think it was as complex or exceptional as the last Gardam ...more
Apr 22, 2020 rated it did not like it
Not for me. I feel like I didn't "get" this book at all. I felt nothing for any of the characters and felt like the story in itself was just plain weird. ...more
Alex Ankarr
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I'd give it five stars, except the last page is a maudlin tone-deaf disaster. Almost wrecks the perfection of the rest of the book. Some editor shoulda swung for that. ...more
Feb 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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 18, 2014 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
Nov 06, 2011 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Barbara by: Francine
This is a wonderful book that shows the truth of adolescence - gawky, uncertain, and full of rapid emotional hairpin turns, even as it takes place in slightly surreal circumstances.
Marigold Green (nicknamed Bilgewater) is the daughter of a widowed headmaster at an English boarding school in the 60s. She's surrounded by barely functional academics, whose other-worldliness leaves her woefully unprepared to be an teenaged girl. And yet, she finds her way through, finds herself and eventually trium
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gardam superior fare. A little unrequited love, a lot of quirkiness, and the usual intriguing plot and exquisite language. Gal gets the right guy; or did she?

Note to the eds/publishers if this edition :: you know those beds the fakirs sleep on? The ones with the nails? I prescribe for you 40 nights on one of those; it will do you good. The amount of spelling errors - typos, fine - was super annoying. You didn't even run this thing through spellcheck. If I were Jane's agent I'd get my client's ro
Jul 06, 2010 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?
Janet Elsbach
Aug 09, 2016 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. ...more
Jan 21, 2009 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). ...more
May 26, 2012 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. ...more
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book didn't work for me. At no point could I relate to Marigold Green, whose narrative voice sounded utterly fake to my ear. Brought-up by an absent-minded father and a sensible matron called Paula, Marigold/Bilge is supposed to be a confused, almost self-hating teenager who is convinced she is ugly, whereas of course she is endowed with good brains AND striking looks. Because her father works in a boarding school for boys, Marigold has few interactions with girls, until Grace Gathering ret ...more
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What's the Name o...: SOLVED - Girl, England, Boys boarding school [s] 4 42 Aug 28, 2014 09:34PM  

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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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