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Great Granny Webster

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  905 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Great Granny Webster is Caroline Blackwood's masterpiece. Heiress to the Guinness fortune, Blackwood was celebrated as a great beauty and dazzling raconteur long before she made her name as a strikingly original writer. This macabre, mordantly funny, partly auto-biographical novel reveals the gothic craziness behind the scenes in the great houses of the aristocracy, as wit ...more
Paperback, NYRB Classics, 108 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by New York Review Books (first published 1977)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
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 ·  905 ratings  ·  119 reviews

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Ms. Smartarse
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
It all started with a two month stint of recovery at her great grandmother's, when she was 14. Two years after World War II, Great Granny Webster's home appeared to be still firmly rooted in an austere atmosphere: not just the house itself, or the single elderly maid Richards, but rather Great Granny Webster's own distaste of life itself .

“I have nothing to live for any more,” she would murmur. I was always astonished by the way her tone sounded so smug and boastful.

It soon became apparent thoug
Feb 17, 2017 added it
--- Like this?
---- Yes. No, pull the sheet up more.
--- Trying to capture my innocence?
---- Already done. No, I’m . . . You’re looking at me.
--- I’m looking at you looking at me.
---- Tell me about you then. Not the Guinness fortune. Not the tiara parties. There’s a thread somewhere. Make it up, if you have to. You're good at that.
--- Oh, there’s a thread all right. Hmm, let’s see. . . .
My mother sent me to stay with my great-grandmother. I was fourteen, recuperating from anaemia. The sea air wo
Oct 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
Such a small novel but deceptively big, reminded me of Franny And Zooey in the way it says so much about a whole family in just a few scenes. It also has that same sadness and archness to it. Straddles the totally disparate moods of the jazz age and the Victorian era, and also has an intense, claustrophic sense of place - the shambles of Dunmartin Hall and Great Granny Webster's house are VIVID anxiety-inducing creations, as is Great Granny herself, holy shit. A snappy, black little novel of cra ...more
Jul 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary
I found a dog-eared, highlighted copy of this in the biographies section of the bookshop I work at. Having ascertained that it wasn't a biography (because if we put all semi-autobiographical novels in the bio section, literature would be a very empty shelf...), I decided it was worth a read, and small enough to fit into my handbag and pull out on the train, too.

The sense of surroundings is what has really stuck with me - Great Granny Webster's horrifying cold house, Aunt Lavinia's pure white, lu
Catherine Robertson
Apr 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
What a brilliant dark little gem! I found a reference to the author in another book, and was intrigued. Lady Caroline Blackwood was daughter of a Guinness girl and a Marquis, married Lucian Freud and then Robert Lowell, and died of chronic alcoholism in 1996. Great Granny Webster was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It is very short, and less of a novella than a character study of three women, all related to the narrator: the eponymous great grandmother, dourly and stubbornly refusing to relinq ...more
Daniel Polansky
A woman traces a strand of familial madness to a brutal, cold-hearted matriarch. Quite marvelous. Funny, sad, a thoughtful exploration of how mental illness is passed down through generations as children, reacting against the sins of their parents, forge their own paths of self-destruction. Very good.
J.M. Hushour
Oct 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Blackwood's novel is barely a novel, because it's the rotting, dark-as-all-gitout account of her barely disguised family (the Guinness family, even more props to her and hers for manufacturing my favorite beer). I love these frank molestations of family history because they adhere stickily, greasily to realities far more pitch and rank than anything fiction could dreck up.
Great Granny Webster sits in her rotting dark castle near Brighton in an uncomfortable chair watching the narrator watching h
Madeeha Maqbool
Jan 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Superficially, this might seem like a near Victorian or Edwardian novel about women's lives but I found the descriptions of the narrator's inter generational story very interesting and thought-provoking. My interest was piqued by the author herself because of a recent NewYorker article about her husband's literary tiff with his wife, Elizabeth Hardwicke. Blackwood belonged to the same social circle as Nancy Mitford and I was curious how she described the same social mores. Gives you a lot to thi ...more
Nicholas During
May 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very strange and unusual book, an exploration of an aristocratic and ancient English family, whose inheritance now seems to be only madness. This is undoubtably a very autobiographical book, much info coming from Honor Moore's introduction, and mostly it seems a psychoanalytical attempt for the author to explore her own psyche and how it was made up by her family, both in her experience and potentially literally inherited. For the shortness of the book it also has a very deep look at modern En ...more
Caleb Wilson
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The narrator's greatest trick is her illusion of being completely passive. Certainly she takes little action on these pages, beyond describing three of her relatives: her great grandmother, her aunt, and her grandmother. In the first two cases she spends time in their presence without saying a word or doing anything, and in the third case, she is supposedly relating a story from a family friend--I say supposedly because there is not a word in this book that is not conveyed in her own voice, whic ...more
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: recommended
Have you read Dodie Smith? She's most famous for writing 101 Dalmatians and I Capture the Castle, which is my personal favorite. Blackwood writes about some of the same British-flavored fare as Smith: genteel poverty and middle and upper classes unwilling to sully their hands with actual work. Smith has it presented as a light-hearted romance, while Blackwood is vicious, the dark heart that Smith is either hiding or refusing to acknowledge lies at the heart of such stories.

Great Granny Webster i
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nyrb-classics
For such a short book, there is a lot of family saga inside, much of it harrowing but the last line left me chuckling.
Nov 17, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nyrb
I read Caroline Blackwood’s bio a few years ago; she was a fascinating woman who carried on with Lucien Freud, Robert Lowell, and composer Israel Citkowitz- just to name the ones she married. Her beauty was celebrated and remarked upon- as well as painted and she moved in the bohemian circles of the day. But what most interested me was that she came to writing novels at age 40. Her books were on my to-read list. And this is the first one I’ve come to. It is very darkly funny- rather like sitting ...more
Jenn Estepp
So, I think I picked this up because it was on one of those, "if you like Downton Abbey" lists that are pretty much everywhere these days. And, even though I am, quite honestly, not all that fond of this season, I am pretty much always in favor of the sort of books that pop up on said lists. I think the logic was mostly "Hey, Great Granny Webster is kind of like the Dowager." But really this is much darker and experimental lit-like than anything PBS/ITV has brought us. Frankly, Great Granny Webs ...more
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Love love love - there is something beautiful about a short book. Jonathan Franzen, take note - I read this in just a few hours. It's hard to separate the writing from the fact of these characters - the book is based on the real family of Caroline Blackwood. And sometimes you don't know whether the book is so funny because of the author's skill or the real twisted psyches of the main players. There's no wink in Blackwood's writing - it really reads more like reportage. But it might be more real ...more
E.C. McCarthy
Aug 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: great-women
The anatomy of aristocracy, a crumbling castle with rotting pipes, impractical customs and haughty servants, as told from a child's perspective. Granny is much too pleasant a name for the matriarch of this clan, and her descendants derive endless pleasure from the evident misery of her stoical existence; her choice to isolate being one of self-preservation, while her dysfunctional relatives fare poorly in the swamp of civilization. A surprisingly thoughtful book on a deceptively sympathetic topi ...more
May 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A breakdown of three generations of mad women in a single English family, elegantly packed into 108 pages. Highly recommended.
Nov 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Now and then I am fortunate enough to find a book that is everything I want a book to be, giving me everything I desire, satisfying me from the beginning sentence to the end.
Dec 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nyrb
Love. More a character analysis than a novel, with lush descriptions of settings as intriguing as the people in them. If you love Grey Gardens...
Jan 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
An entertaining, humorous novella mainly told by an orphan teenage girl who writes in a reportage style about four of her relatives, Great Granny Webster, Aunt Lavinia, her grandmother and grandfather.

Great Granny Webster is a cranky, frugal, mean spirited, lonely, unfriendly, rarely speaks, well off old woman who the teenage girl spends two months with when she was 14 years old.

Aunt Lavinia, a woman who parties, marries men who keep her in relative comfort then divorces them but can still persu
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
So so so so so good.
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Vivid description of a dysfunctional family in the crumbling of an era. It takes great writing to make a novella work and this one falls squarely in my wheelhouse.
Tracey the Bookworm
I found this book to be too bleak although well written.
Apr 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nyrb, favourites
I laughed at this quote on the back of Great Granny Webster "Like a box of chocolates with amphetamine centres” as it is totally apt for this brilliant and bleakly funny book! A new favourite to add to the pile.
Victoria Cooper
Oct 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book did not let me down. The character portrayal was beautifully done and the whole book entwined character to character effortlessly but upon finishing it I realised there was really very little plot (something I usually do not like) but that I felt I had definitely been on some kind of journey. It was funny, unsettling and creepy. It was sad and descriptive and I could not put it down. It is a strange one though as I dont know, and even if this is necessary, what kind of genre it is in. ...more
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Though this novel is short, it is tightly-written and evokes a lot of different emotions. Sometimes it seems a touch too maudlin for my tastes, but it seems fitting for a book about the bleakness of the lives of one down-on-its-luck aristocrat family whose familial homestead is a dilapidated palace in N. Ireland. The titular Great Granny Webster, though formidable and domineering, doesn't dominate the whole of the text, and Blackwood manages to capture the complex livelihoods of several individu ...more
Feb 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fun, odd, short, and intriguing enough to have me planning to track down other books by the author. I sought out this text having read she was once married to Lucian Freud. The writing style is quite dense and packed with complexity, yet the story is simple. But nuanced.

Through a series of character descriptions we get the history of a family and its unique madness. Something about the writing style reminds me of Gormenghast. The same stately decay, madness, and regal exaggerations abound.

Suzanne Stroh
Superb. Fiction or not, one of the best family memoirs ever written--by a Guinness. Dark humor at its driest.

Caroline Blackwood's blinding talent as a writer was eclipsed by the famous artists she married (Lucien Freud and Robert Lowell), had children with (Ivan Moffatt) and wrote books about (Francis Bacon). In the end, her ability to write was obliterated by alcohol addiction.

But in between, we got Great Granny Webster, the literary noir KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS. You aren't literate in the 20
Nov 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: quirky-families
Odd, very odd book. Not exactly nice. Not a barrel of laughs. A semi-fictional story about Blackwood's family. Some truly incredible character studies (really what the whole book is about), all very dark and hopelessly claustrophobic. Everyone is insane in their own way, it seems. Good writing, but I was thankful that it was over quick. This is one for the lovers of dark, melancholy - almost gothic literature. Didn't love it, but can't say it wasn't well done.
Aug 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed Blackwood's mordant tone a good deal. Very black humour, well written. It is a little impressionistic, taking the title character and setting her into context through perspectives. It struck me as well-crafted but not enough dimensions to be something I would read again... although the more I think about it, the more I am uncertain.
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NYRB Classics: Great Granny Webster, by Caroline Blackwood 19 57 Jul 31, 2019 06:54PM  

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was a writer, and the eldest child of The 4th Marquess of Dufferin and Ava and the brewery heiress Maureen Guinness.

A well-known figure in the literary world through her journalism and her novels, Lady Caroline Blackwood was equally well known for her high-profile marriages, first to the artist Lucian Freud, then to the composer Israel Citkowitz and finally to the poet Robert Lowell, who described

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