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The Greengage Summer

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The faded elegance of Les Oeillets, with its bullet-scarred staircase and serene garden bounded by high walls; Eliot, the charming Englishman who became the children's guardian while their mother lay ill in hospital; sophisticated Mademoiselle Zizi, hotel patronne, and Eliot's devoted lover; 16 year old Joss, the oldest Grey girl, suddenly, achingly beautiful. And the Marne river flowing silent and slow beyond them all ...They would merge together in a gold-green summer of discovery, until the fruit rotted on the trees and cold seeped into their bones ...

187 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1958

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About the author

Rumer Godden

181 books443 followers
Margaret Rumer Godden, OBE was born in Sussex, but grew up in India, in Narayanganj. Many of her 60 books are set in India. Black Narcissus was made into a famous movie with Deborah Kerr in 1947.

Godden wrote novels, poetry, plays, biographies, and books for children.

For more information, see the official website: Rumer Godden

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 338 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
February 4, 2019
4.5 stars.

Greengage plums

In this 1958 novel by Rumer Godden (one of those once well-known authors that I’d never heard of before I started hanging out online with GR friends who love older books), five English children, ages 5 to 16, are taken by their mother to France for an educational vacation - touring the battlefields of France so they’ll have more appreciation for the sacrifices of others. The kids will get a life lesson, all right: it’s just not the one their mother intended.

Their mother is bitten on the leg by a horsefly just before the trip and winds up in the hospital; the children end up living largely unsupervised at their hotel for a few weeks. A gentleman who’s sleeping with one of the proprietors of the hotel takes them under his wing, at least to some extent, but it’s clear from the start that he has his own reasons for keeping them around.

The Greengage Summer is a coming of age story, narrated by 13 year old Cecil (a girl), that starts out very languid and slow-paced, but then the tension starts building as they realize something is very off with one of their friends at the hotel, and . I couldn’t put it down for the second half.

The greengage plums used in the title have an interesting symbolism: they're so sweet, but these phrases and words were typically used in connection with them:
"we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages"
"as if the first greengage had been an Eden apple, I was suddenly older and wiser"
"There were a few, on the trees, overripe in the sun but still firm under the leaves; I ate both kinds and they added to the chaotic feeling in my stomach."
"Greengage indigestion!"
This summer was a definitely a loss of Eden experience for the Grey siblings.

It’s a rather sobering look into human nature and our weaknesses. The characterization is excellent, subtle and with depth, and sometimes disturbing. If you like I Capture the Castle, give The Greengage Summer a read.

Well worth reading, but there’s a ton of mostly-untranslated French in it. Good thing the Kindle has a translation feature! I used it constantly.

January 2019 group read with the Retro Reads group.

Content notes: some adult material, though not explicit, including lots of swearing in French that mostly went over my head because the Kindle translated it into pretty innocuous words. 😂
Profile Image for Ruby Granger.
Author 2 books45.6k followers
September 9, 2020
I'm so surprised that this book is not one of the Great Classics. I'd never even heard of it before I picked it up. This is one of my new favourite 20th century novels.

The book is narrated by 13 year old Cecil who, with her siblings and mother, goes to France for the summer. However, when her mother gets sick, the children are sent to stay in a hotel with an Englishman called Eliot. They spend halcyon days wondering the French countryside and villages, and Cecil observes the antics of adulthood (as the only french linguist). She sits in between adulthood and childhood this summer, in a very similar way to Leo in The Go-Between.
Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
797 reviews585 followers
February 7, 2019
Because this book was first published in 1958 & my edition was a Puffin Plus Reprint I was expecting a 1950s style teen book - & this book quite definitely wasn't.

It is like serving yourself a bowl of muesli, expecting a healthy breakfast & finding it has been heavily sweetened.

Or going to a movie expecting a new version of The Sound of Music & discovering it is more like Last Tango in Paris.

Great products, but you feel mislead by the packaging.

Greengage Blossoms

A mother takes her five children to experience life in France - basically because the oldest two -Joss & Cecil (in spite of the male names, these are teen girls)- are becoming obnoxious & selfish. The mother,has a horse fly bite which has become infected, is very sick indeed before they even arrive at the hotel & ends up hospitalised. I can't understand any mother, no matter how ill, choosing to entrust her children to the care of strangers, rather than sending for their admittedly judgemental Uncle William. Joss is the oldest and matters worsen when she also becomes ill. I can understand the hotel proprietor Mademoiselle Zizi feeling this is not her problem, but her lover, the enigmatic Elliot takes pity on these poor waifs - or does he?

To say any more would be to spoil the story (which we see through 13 year old Cecil's eyes) For me the only good thing that happens is the feasting on greengages. I have now found out that they are a type of very sweet green plum.

This is an excellent book, very well written & every twist & turn was a shock for me. It reminds me strongly of Bonjour tristesse, published four years earlier. Also with a young protagonist, also not a YA book.

In spite of these quibbles, I highly recommend this book & I'm expecting it to be one of my top reads of 2019.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews42 followers
January 21, 2023
ABSOLUMENT MERVEILEUS…….(Absolutely Wonderful > in French)…..
EMPLACEMENT PARFAIT…..(Perfect Pitch in French)

“The Greengage Summer”, first published in 1958, (my first time reading Rumer Godden)….reminded me of why I read fiction. It had everything. It was funny, sad, devastating and hopeful all at the same time.

…I learned new *French terms*.…..
[Essuie-toi’bec avec ta bavette] > wipe your mouth on your bib. …. some new *vocabulary*…
[Plimsolls: a light rubber, soled canvas shoe worn for sports]
and….[gouter: a disease in which detective metabolism of uric acid causes arthritis, especially in the smaller bones of the feet, deposition of chalkstones and episodes of acute pain > “We had learned about the French children’s gouter]….
and got a great taste of The Holel de Ville ….sixteenth century which contained the official apartments of the mayor in Paris. The hotel was located in a section called poets town.

…I enjoyed the lyrical descriptions…. (the language)….
…the settings…very atmospheric and lush….
…the smells… (cut grass, jasmine, summer itself)
…the vivid visuals…. > reflections of trees, houses, fishermen, children, kitchens, cats, colors and shadows along the river bank etc.
…the story adventures…. ( how about stuffing oneself on yummy smooth green plums in the greengage orchard?)
…the old fashioned feeling — reminding us in the power of delicious intelligent mesmerizing prose….
…the main and supporting characters were irresistibly showcased > especially the endearing five English children….(and the dynamics between them all) ….

The five Grey children were: Joss (the eldest/sixteen), Cecil (the narrator), and the three younger kids….Hester, Willmouse, and Vicky.

The children’s Mother wanted to take her children to France for a vacation to learn some history about the battlefields.
When a horsefly insect infected the mothers leg she became quite ill before leaving.
NOTE… memories came flooding back for me. Years ago when I was traveling, in India, I got some type of insect bite that grew into a golf size round ‘green-pus-ball’, on my lower leg…..it was nasty looking.
Running a fever and given nothing more than a sugar pill from an Indian doctor in a filthy village…. I needed help so I flew to England, where I spent the first night in the hospital in London with beginning stages of blood poisoning….
Then the next few weeks I was recuperating In Cambridge- in bed. A nurse came every few days to change bandages — and the English boyfriend’s mother (so happy to have a girl in the house with 4 sons), kept me feed….
Some of the best caretaking I ever had in my life. I could have died from that infected insect bite the London doctor told me…..
Ha….and aren’t we glad I lived so I could read this book - re-visit the memory and write this review….
I SWEAR I’M RETIRED….from writing reviews — but what the hell — sometimes I just can’t help myself. This really was a wonderful book and I recommend it to everybody!!!!

The storytelling is adventurous…..
Father was not around. He was a botanist ….. not part of the summer vacation plan….but when Mother needs to go to the hospital (for ‘her’ nasty infected leg bite)….soon after Joss gets sick— tummy problem and spends time in bed….So her thirteen year old Cecil becomes the sibling in charge….
Nothing is straight forward when 5 kids end up living in a hotel with no parents with them.
Ha….not to fear —(maybe though) — the kids meet a handsome confident Englishman name Elliot who (sorta) becomes the temporary guardian. Mother asked Eliot to look after them….

Oh my — I see I’m doing a messy job tying to share about this book —-
There are several interesting characters — Eliot being one of them
There is a famous painter: Monsieur Marc Joubert….
Two dogs….Madame Corbet, Uncle William, Mademoiselle Zizi….etc.

Rumer Godden wrote exquisitely…. she really captured the innocence of children and summer - and as the reader we get quite invested with their predicaments, mysteriousness, jealousies, and drama …. They were basically on their own a little frighten in a strange land….

I’ll leave a few excerpts to offer up some flavors….

“Stepping in dew, my head, in the sun, I walked into the orchard and, before I knew what I had done, reached up to touch a greengage. It came off, warm and smooth into my hand. I looked quickly round, but no one came, no voice, scolded, and, after a moment, I bit into the ripe golden flesh. Then I had another, and another, until, replete with fruit and ecstasy, I went back to my post”.

“In Southstone our family Circle had been five children along with Mother. Our important had receded only on Father’s rare visits; Uncle William and his friends were uninteresting as the dead to us and children’s doings, problems, ideas, and Jose had filled all our horizons. At Oeillets we were insignificant as grass under trees, under the light and shadow of grown-ups”.

“Good God! An orphanage!” (Eliot exclaims when he sees all the children)
“To wake up for the first time in a new place, can be like another birth. I think that to me, it was perhaps more startling than to most people, because, for as long as I could remember, I had waked each morning in the same bedroom in Belmont Road, with its wallpaper faded to a gray blue pattern; to the same white curtains and blue linoleum, the brown rug worn in places, so that the white show through the brown; to the same white and enameled iron beds, paisley eider-downs, and the pictures that were framed print from all supplements to the ‘Illustrated London News’. Uncle, William and Mother had had those pictures when they were children, but Joss had taken them down and put up a Chinese painting instead; she took that with her to Willmouse’s room, and I brought the prince back. Cecil is sentimental, said Joss”.

“On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages. Joss and I felt guilty; we were still at the age when we thought being greedy was a childish fault, and this gave our guilt, a tinge of hopelessness, because, up to then, we had believed that, as we grew older, our faults would disappear, and none of them did. Hester of course was quite unabashed; Will—though he was called Willmouse then—Willmouse and Vicky were too small to reach but the lowest branches, but they found fruit fallen in the grass; we were all strictly for bidden to climb the trees”

Note……the inspiration for this story comes straight from Rumer Godden’s own childhood.

5 very strong stars.

Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book490 followers
January 7, 2023
Children are everywhere, like insects. They can know anything.

In an attempt to have a less structured approach to my reading this year, I decided most of my choices would be based on the appeal of the moment. Having started off with three fairly serious reads, I was looking for something light when I read the excellent review of my friend, Megan, for The Greengage Summer. It sounded so delightful and so what I was needing, that I rushed off, found a copy and dove in.

If this book is any indicator, I am going to enjoy this year of random reading very much. What a sweet, calm, intriguing read this was! Told to us by an adolescent, this is the story of five British children stranded in France at a hotel. While on vacation, the mother experiences an illness and needs to be hospitalized, and the children, the oldest of which is sixteen, are left in the care of a male stranger, who also happens to be British, at the French hotel, Les Oeillets.

This is a coming of age story, a bit of a mystery, and a great deal of good fun. There are French passages, but I found, even with only my schoolbook French (and that very long ago) to fall back upon, I could follow the French conversation almost as well as the English.

Unsupervised by a mother, the children are able to wonder about and partake of many adult doings that they would normally not have witnessed, and as children so often do, they blend into the background, are discounted, and know much more than any of the adults about what is going on around them. Our narrator, Cecile, is charming and very realistically painted, so that seeing the story unfold through her eyes is ideal. And, as children also do, the emotions they exhibit are perfect and pure–they love completely, they rally loyally, and they understand with their hearts more than their heads.

I already had Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede slated for reading this year. I am now very excited to get to it, as I have a sneaking feeling that Ms. Godden is going to be one of those authors for which I cannot leave any of her works unread, and OMG she wrote 60 books.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,258 reviews451 followers
February 21, 2023
I do love Rumer Godden, she tells a great story that transports you to wherever she sets you down. In this case, at the Hotel Ouilletts in France, where Cecil and her 4 siblings are stranded after their mother is hospitalized for weeks. She leaves them in charge of Eliott, the lover of the proprietoress, who does his best, although he is preoccupied with problems of his own. It turns out to be a summer of change for all of them. I fell in love with these kids, especially 8 year old Wilmouse, a budding couturier, but 5 year old Vicky was surprisingly knowing for her age, and a breath of fresh air. Hester was 10, but sharp as a tack, and honest to a fault. Joss was 16 and just discovering her budding sensuality. Our narrator is Cecil, 13, very observant even in her confusion, because she plans to be a writer, or maybe a nun. What starts out as a summer idyll, steeped in a fairy tale quality, turns into a dramedy of errors, in a series of events that gets more and more involved.

In a preface by the author, she explains that this was based on her own family on a holiday in France, with a few minor changes for the sake of plot. Fiction or not, it was a delightful read, and Godden remains high on my list of go-to authors.
Profile Image for Jeanette.
3,277 reviews559 followers
April 29, 2016
Full five stars without need to round up. This 13 year old's (Cecil is her name) tale of a summer spent at a hotel in France during the 1920's is magnificent.

It has succulent fruit, ripe and golden, and all of it is not in the orchard. It has depth of change, childhood leaving. It has stunning elegance in parts. Cecil's favorite new word (elegance). It has the reality of parental absence and the fears of the unknown. It has the entire ambiance of the Large over the Small. It has intrigue and disguise. It has raw and exotic competitions on multiple levels. It all floats in an ocean of attractive and over-riding trust. It's as equally filled with fear and mistrustful alienation.

All amidst the supreme prose of a master for this in two languages. It helps very much to understand and be able to read the French, as well as the English.

Our 5 Grey children, such completely individual and different members, still knot tightly.

There are events, there are occurrences. All the long days glorious and yet nuance of difference turns tides and jolly outings of freedom to other more mature levels in some instants. And until the last few pages, there are 40 or 50 guesses and just a few straight answers.

Little pitchers, big ears. Cecil will know.

Lovely, lovely and incredibly realistic and yet heart leaping tale for many of our own memories of the wild summer days of freedom near the ends of our childhoods.

This would make a Motion Picture of the Year. The only one with such visuals I could think of in comparison would be "A Room with a View" filmed in Florence and Positano, Italy. This one, the Marne, the Greengage Orchards, the flower fields, that couple at the top of the stairs -meeting them for the first time in their Formal Dining Ensemble.

Joss, our Cecil, Hester with her Brownie, Wilhouse, and Vicky going to see the Champagne tunnels with Eliot. How did I ever miss this glorious, glorious Rumer Godden? The one with a plot better than Hitchcock's.

Chronological glory and I was never so glad to see Uncle William in my life.

Best quality of read in spirit and in lyrical prose for the year and exactly what I needed for a gloomy spring. Highly, highly recommend.
Profile Image for Megan Gibbs.
40 reviews10 followers
January 7, 2023
One of my resolutions for this year is to start reading the unread books on my shelves before buying another!!! The Greengage Summer is part of a classics collection of beautifully designed Pan MacMillan books that I collect and I will admit I had never heard of this book or author.
What a pleasurable read this was!!! and perfect for this time of year, as I write this review, looking out on a grey, rainy rather bleak day. Instead, I transported to Les Oeillets, alongside Cecil, our narrator and her 4 siblings who take up residence in a faded but rather elegant hotel, whilst their mother recovers from an an unexpected illness. What follows, is a charming coming of age story of self discovery, love and deceit set over the course of the summer. The characterisation, of the five siblings and prose is particularly beautiful, which is something I always look for in a book, and I felt utterly absorbed in this family’s lives for two days. Great book to start 2023 with😊
Profile Image for Kathleen.
Author 1 book150 followers
March 19, 2020
“I wondered what it was like to be buried and not to be sitting in this pretty satin-papered dining room, eating the things the visitors ate, hors d’oeuvres and pâté, poulet a l’estragon, veal and steaks, salads and greengages, and I hoped I need never be dead.”

A wonderful story about growing up but, I think because of how it was told, transcending childhood to become a story we can all relate to.

An English mother takes her five children to France to visit a war cemetery in order to teach them a little appreciation. Staying in a hotel along the Marne river, they learn alright, but probably not what their mother intended. It includes detailed descriptions of their impressions of this new world, and the reader joins them in finding their way through it.

Through the eyes of Cecil, the second eldest, the reader sees the hotel with all its bizarre characters and unfamiliar customs. There is an abundance of French phrases, but Cecil translates most of them for us and for her siblings. How each of the children cope in their individual ways is fascinating.

“At Les Oeillets we had adopted certain places for our own, each one of us had chosen one or two. Willmouse had the bank under the cherry tree, of course, but he also owned the little salon; though he had never been in it, it was his. Hester liked the conservatory and a certain small bed of picotees because its warm close smell reminded her of the carnation Eliot had worn on our first night that now seemed ages ago. Vicky had the vine arbour, perhaps because it was near the kitchen, and she said she liked the bidets—‘they are like dear little baths for dolls,’ said Vicky. I loved the wilderness; it was poetical with its white statues and the white jasmine and, for some reason, I loved the staircase, which was why I so much resented the machine-gun holes.”

The tension mounts as a mystery unfolds. The children have a unique viewpoint, and in that way children relate to animals, Cecil relays how they are herded like cattle, everywhere like insects, and chased and cornered like rabbits.

This was the perfect read for me in these uncertain times. Deep and light at the same time. Lovely.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews763 followers
July 2, 2012

Greengages, or reines-claudes.

This must have been lurking on the back shelf in the spare bedroom for years, ever since I bought it on a bookseller's recommendation as a way of weaning a teen off Jacqueline Wilson and onto something slightly more grown-up. As one of those serendipitous side-effects of a bit of general tidying (tidying bookshelves, yay!), it came with me for my morning coffee and I just read it straight through in one sitting. A bittersweet evocation of August days in the Champagne district, it is set just after WW1, when the narrator was thirteen. She and her three sisters and a brother are taken abroad for the first time in their lives, mother disappears into the local hospital with septicaemia following a horsefly bite, older sis laid low by The Curse, and the four other children are vaguely 'looked after' by various members of staff or guests of the hotel on the banks of the Marne. A real mystery knits itself up, with more than one type of border crossed, innocence lost, and the swither between child and adult that is thirteen.

With penicillin and paracetamol, nowadays there would have to be some other way of removing the responsible adults. But remove them one must.

Profile Image for booklady.
2,239 reviews65 followers
September 11, 2015
The Greengage Summer is a coming-of-age novel based on a real summer in Rumer Godden’s life. Reading it was like traveling back to 1920s France and a time when childhood was slower and summer days were longer because there just wasn’t so much to do. Cecil, the second oldest Grey daughter, as the narrator was delightful. This was Rumer as a child and it was during this memorable trip to France she learned some things which would stay with her forever.

The five English children—Joss, Cecil, Hester, Willmouse (the only boy) and Vicky—were left stranded in a French hotel when their mother was bitten on the leg and the wound turned septicemic. Mrs. Grey was confined to hospital and the children were at the mercy of an unusual assortment of French-speaking hotel staff. Of the children, Cecil, spoke the most French and served as translator for the group.

There was one Englishman, Elliott, in the hotel but his identity, relationship to the proprietor, occupation and strange behavior raised more questions than they gave the children reasons to trust him and yet despite everything the Greys found themselves very much predisposed to Elliott.

I have yet to read anything by Rumer Godden which is less than 4 stars. Her writing is consistently first rate. The Greengage Summer is no exception. Charming. Bittersweet. Unforgettable. And best of all, it is based on an actual experience. In the intro to the Folio edition of the book, the actress, Jane Asher, who played Cecil/Hester in the movie, describes her adventures on set—an added bonus.

Most highly recommended.
Profile Image for John Gilbert.
870 reviews93 followers
April 13, 2022
This 1958 novel is not the classic some reviewers seem to think it is in my opinion.

The premise of a young English family with five children aged 7-16 staying in a hotel outside of Paris for a summer, by adults not known to them, after their mother is bitten by a housefly and ends up in hospital, is interesting as a coming of age novel. The narrator is 13 year old Cecil, who happens to be a girl.

But the narrative never flows, the story is often convoluted and the dialogue is peppered with French that is rarely translated. There are some interesting bits, especially towards the end of the book with theft and murder, but overall I found the entire book a disappointing slog with a few high points.

Profile Image for Mary Durrant .
347 reviews123 followers
January 22, 2016
'On and off , all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the Greengages.....

A wonderful coming of age novel .
Love and deceit in the Champagne country of the Marne.
I found this charming with atmosphere of a hot summer where the Grey children stay in Les Oeillets while their mother recovers in hospital.
No one is quite what they seem and what happens in this tale of young innocence?
Beautifully written.
Profile Image for Emmkay.
1,185 reviews77 followers
July 16, 2017
I know I first read The Greengage Summer as a girl, and was mostly puzzled then at how different it was from Godden's children's books - how unsettled and lacking in resolution. Reading it again as an adult, it was absolutely glorious, redolent of summer, and smarting with the realization of ambiguity that is so important to the best coming-of-age novels.
Profile Image for Hana.
522 reviews293 followers
March 30, 2017
A lyrical, atmospheric family story, with a surprising amount of suspense and some great plot twists at the end. I wonder if Rumer Godden wrote for the stage; The Greengage Summer is perfectly structured in three acts with all the plot points in just the right places. I would love to see this in the hands of a modern director with a really good ensemble cast and a fine cinematographer. Meanwhile, the book is absolutely wonderful. I’ll tell you about Act 1, but leave you properly in suspense about Acts 2 and 3.

In the first pages, Joss, the oldest girl, and her sister Cecil, the book’s narrator, are reminiscing with their Uncle William about that fateful summer. Cecil recalls the green-gold days at the inn on the Marne, and the orchard ripe with fruit. “On and off, all that hot French August, we made ourselves ill from eating the greengages.”

“Will—though he was called Willmouse then—Willmouse and Vicky were too small to reach any but the lowest branches, but they found fruit fallen in the grass….”


The story opens with the five children stranded in France with their mother, who has been taken severely ill with septicemia. They manage, quite heroically, to get themselves and their mother to the inn where they have reservations. It is very late at night and they are very much the worse for their journey—grubby, wearing school uniforms that make them look like orphans, terribly hungry and desperate. A chaotic scene ensues as the hotel’s proprietors at first refuse to let the family stay. Part of the conversation is in French, only partially translated, and that adds to the extraordinarily vivid sense of panicked dislocation as the children try to remember their school lessons and argue their case in broken but indignant sentences.

They are rescued by an enigmatic Englishman, apparently another guest at the Inn, but one who seems on extraordinarily intimate terms with the proprietors. Who is this Englishman? We get a hint that all is not quite on the level when Eliot says the children will "give him a reason for being there." The children are "camouflage" for the mysterious but attractive Mr. Eliot—but why?

The children’s mother is packed off to a hospital, which must be good since it serves wine with luncheon, and the children are on their own, running free in the town by the river and in the splendid orchards.


They also amuse themselves by watching, with quick, observant eyes, the adult dramas unfolding around them. “If Mademoiselle Zizi had known that gallery of hard young eyes was watching her I wonder if she would have been different. From morning to night at Les Oeillets we sat in judgment on her, and the judgments were severe. ‘Well, none of it is true,’ said Hester.”

The time is the 1920s, some years after the end of World War I. Who did what in the war, who collaborated, or hid secrets, or profited from others’ misery are still topics of gossip and shame. There are too many women alone and there is too little money—but on the Marne there are also visitors, pilgrims really, who come from all over the world to see the battlefields and find graves of lost ones. Les Oeillets caters to these battlefield visitors and the owner, Mademoiselle Zizi, and the manager, Madame Corbet, make the most of the gruesome relics—the bullet holes on the staircase and a bloodstain in one of the guest rooms, carefully renewed with pan drippings at regular intervals.

I thought that no one could do children better than Elizabeth Goudge, but now I’ll have to add Rumer Godden as another author who can create sympathetic and utterly believable children and young people; each of the five English children has a distinctive voice and personality and we see the world and its ‘grown-up’ inhabitants through their perceptive eyes and quick ears.

Joss Grey is 16 and sidelined for most of Act 1 with severe headaches and nausea. Cecil, at 13, has always been a bit jealous of her beautiful sister but she has her own special gifts and takes charge with a good deal of courage and competence. Hester, 10 years old, accompanies Cecil on many of their great adventures, while Willmouse, age 7 designs dresses for his dolls and Vicky, age 4, follows the head chef everywhere and charms him so thoroughly that she grows quite fat from all the tidbits.

Paul, the scruffy kitchen boy, befriends the children and slips them fresh rolls for their picnic lunch instead of the stale ones ordered by Madame. Madame, it seems, hates the children. Not even Vicky escapes her dislike. Paul sorts it out for them in chapter 6: “It was sinister, but exciting.”

Eliot can be charming, taking them to visit their mother at the hospital, treating them to lunch in the village, but then turning cold and distant—or disappearing to Paris for long stretches of time. “Eliot est un vrai mystère,” says Paul, and the children can only agree. With agreeable mysteries, the pleasure of the French table and adventures in an ancient town in the Champagne region—all described in loving detail—life is a complete delight and it seems that time itself is suspended.


Then, some nine days after their arrival, Joss recovers and it was “as if those days of sickness and shock had made her clean and delicate, she looked pale and…pure, I thought, as a snowflake or a white blossom…” I’ll say no more, except to add that Joss is the catalyst for the events of Act 2, and that all of the children become key movers of events in the climactic Third Act.

Four and a half stars, with a half star off for all the French--I quite enjoyed it and I think even those who don't speak any French would be able to follow the plot, but it might be off-putting for some.

Content: PG warning for sexual situations (all discussed only in veiled terms and everything is behind closed doors) and some coarse language (but in French and not translated.)
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 22 books2,025 followers
June 19, 2021
Beautifully written summer story by Rumer Godden, a genuinely great writer. A group of children find themselves alone in a hotel in the French countryside for a summer.
Profile Image for Elena.
722 reviews225 followers
August 2, 2022
"Immer wieder, während des ganzen heißen Augusts in Frankreich, überaßen wir uns an den Mirabellen." - Rumer Godden, "Unser Sommer im Mirabellengarten"

Cecil und ihre vier Geschwister reisen mit ihrer Mutter in die Champagne, in ein in die Jahre gekommenes Hotel. Alles könnte perfekt sein - das Hotel ist herrschaftlich, der Garten verwunschen, die Temperaturen hochsommerlich warm - doch schon auf der Hinfahrt erkrankt die Mutter schwer und die fünf Kinder sind im Hotel auf sich allein gestellt. Sie verbringen dort magische wie seltsame Tage - und nicht alle sind, wer sie vorgeben zu sein...

"Unser Sommer im Mirabellengarten" von Rumer Godden erschien bereits 1958 und wurde 2021 im Kampa Verlag in der Übersetzung von Elisabeth Pohr in dieser wunderschönen Ausgabe neu herausgegeben. Das Buch ist ein typisch unterhaltsamer Klassiker, sehr dramatisch, sehr detailreich und - was mir sehr gut gefallen hat - sehr sommerlich. Die Autorin fängt die Hitze und den französischen Sommer in diesem alten, prächtigen Hotel mit seinem bezaubernden Garten wunderbar ein, was den Roman zu einer perfekten Sommerlektüre macht.

Der Roman benötigt einige Zeit, um Fahrt aufzunehmen, er ist auch nicht auf jeder Seite spannend und verliert sich an einigen Stellen etwas in der Geschichte, was mich beim Lesen manchmal ein bisschen ermüdet hat. Auch arbeitet die Autorin für meinen Geschmack mit ein paar Stereotypen zu viel. Gegen Ende entwickelt sich das Buch aber fast zu einem Kriminalroman und lässt die Lesenden dann doch regelrecht durch die Seiten fliegen.

"Unser Sommer im Mirabellengarten" ist ein einfach zu lesender Klassiker, perfekt für warme Sommertage mit Protagonist*innen, die viele Eigenheiten aufweisen und deshalb umso liebenswerter sind. Nicht unbedingt ein Pageturner, aber durchaus für eine kleine Zerstreuung gut!

Hinweis: In der Übersetzung wird das Z- und I-Wort verwendet.
Profile Image for Julie  Durnell.
1,014 reviews100 followers
September 20, 2019
Beautifully evocative of this French hotel and countryside along the river Marne, where the five Grey children are left when their mother is taken ill and lies in a nearby hospital. I was expecting a sweet innocent coming of age story but this was not totally the case. Very different, very unique.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
Author 7 books30 followers
February 6, 2011
Inspired by my re-reading of a childhood favourite, Rumer Godden’s ‘An Episode of Sparrows,’ I decided to read what is probably Godden’s best-known book, ‘The Greengage Summer.’ I figured that anything by Godden would be worth the investment, and as 'The Greengage Summer’ had been made into a film (starring a young Susannah York), I didn’t think I’d be disappointed. I wasn’t mistaken; ‘The Greengage Summer’ is an engaging read on various levels.
For me the most pleasurable aspect is Godden’s ability to perfectly conjure up what it feels like to be an English child from a drab British neighbourhood with its stodgy, lacklustre food to visit rural France. Cecil’s (the first-person child narrator’s) articulate impressions of their country hotel, the nearby greengage orchard, lavender beds, a meandering river, crisp baguettes, the fizz of champagne, etc. are full of wonder and sensuality that any kid might feel on their first experience of French landscape and culture. As Godden writes — in Cecil’s voice — early on in the book: “To wake for the first time in a new place can be like another birth.”
The reader senses a maturing journey ahead for Cecil and her four siblings, left alone by their sick mother, who has to be hospitalized in a nearby town as soon as they arrive at the idiosyncratic Les Oeillets, their country house hotel. (I wondered why Godden chose a difficult name to pronounce, even for a fairly competent French speaker. But I suppose it’s meaning — the eyelets — is vaguely appropriate. Perhaps there's a colloquial translation of which I'm not aware.)
As with ‘Episode of Sparrows,’ I was amazed and impressed by the adult issues that Godden was able to inject into this book without thrusting them — in an overly politically-correct fashion — in the reader’s face. Two main characters are obviously tempestuous lovers, although not married. Which might seem innocuous now, but ‘The Greengage Summer’ was published in 1958 when sex outside of marriage was still frowned on. The only boy of the five kids, Willmouse, designs clothes for his two dolls, Miss Dawn and Dolores. No gender stereotypes for Rumer Godden! Although she veers close to stereotypical characters when it comes to the French, but she ensures that every person is a distinct individual and each a genuine portrayal.
‘The Greengage Summer’ contains a credible cops-and-robbers plot involving bank robbery, but the book derives its real tension most effectively from a growing realization by the two older daughters (Cecil and Joss) of the power of Joss’s newfound sexual attraction — she becomes the centre of attention for most of the men in the book from a lowly kitchen boy to an elderly painter. Joss’s recent maturity is made obvious by the attentions of a louche and seemingly selfish Englishman, Eliot, who is one of the aforementioned lovers. His partner is the temperamental and jealous Mademoiselle Gigi, part owner of the hotel. Eliot cannot disguise his infatuation with Joss, with resulting disastrous histrionics from Mlle. Gigi.
To read 'The Greengage Summer’ is like spending a sunny Summer weekend in a beautiful French country hotel, with delicious food and drink, in the company of characters with faults, foibles and charms that make for most entertaining company.
Profile Image for Gary.
240 reviews51 followers
April 22, 2021
Oh, where to begin? This is a charming, gentle and heart-warming book – on the face of it. In fact it is a deep, wonderful, thought provoking, emotional rollercoaster of a book that will suck you in, stroke your fur, feed you strawberries (and greengages) and Champagne, warm you like the sun, and then slap you round the face and make you cry; then start all over again.

The Greengage Summer is a coming-of-age story set in 1923, about four children whisked off to France by their mother, against their will, to see the battlefields of the Great War, which she hopes will make them stop being selfish introverts and make them appreciate the sacrifices of others. They can think of no more boring way to spend their summer holidays but, when mother becomes ill, they are largely left to their own devices. They build relationships of different kinds with the hotel staff and local people, and begin to see what life is really about – and some of it is ugly.

The story is narrated by Cecil (actually Cecilia) and the writing is gorgeous; it really is as though a thirteen-year-old girl wrote it, in terms of her thoughts and emotions, anyway, although the words are more sophisticated than that. Her descriptions of places, events and emotions feel genuine and heartfelt, and very powerful. The characters are well described and feel like real people, and I am sure this is down not only to the cleverness and skill of the author in remembering what it was like to be a teenager but also because much of what happens really happened to her and her family.

I won’t say more. Read the book, it’s brilliant, and I can see why it has never been out of print since it was published in 1958. I have the Folio Society version which is beautifully illustrated. If you read that one, you can read the short Foreword written by the author’s daughter, but don’t read the Introduction by Jane Asher or the author’s Preface until after you have read the book, or it will spoil it for you. I loved this book and would give it six stars if I could.
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,056 reviews212 followers
August 6, 2020
Oh, how I enjoyed this book! There is a kind of code to Rumer Godden's writing. . .a kind of side-eye delicious narrative that hides a story-within-a-story, if you are willing to ferret it out. . .her description. . .words on page as brushstrokes on canvas. . .

A greengage is a kind of green plum. My suburban mother was partial to them, and had oodles of country relatives who had trees we could pluck. In our part of the world we rarely saw these in a store (this from the start of Rumer Godden's book):

"The orchard seemed to us immense, and perhaps it was, for there were seven alleys of greengage trees alone; between them, even in that blazing summer, dew lay all day in the long grass. The trees were old, twisted, covered in lichen and moss, but I shall never forget the fruit. In the hotel dining room Mauricette built it into marvellous pyramids on dessert plates laid with vine leaves. “reines-claudes,” she would say to teach us its name as she put our particular plate down, but we were too full to eat. In the orchard we had not even to pick fruit – it fell off the trees into our hands.
The greengages had a pale-blue bloom, especially in the shade, but in the sun the flesh showed amber through the clear-green skin; if it were cracked the juice was doubly warm and sweet. Coming from the streets and small front gardens of Southstone, we had not been let loose in an orchard before; it was no wonder we ate too much.”

The story itself is about an English mother who has had it up to *here* with her kids – post WWI, barely pre WWII – and wants to show her children something completely different about the world. She packs them up, heads east, and almost gets there. . .but on the trip falls dreadfully ill, handing the five children from age 16 to 5ish off to a relative to manage. Uncle William is a busy man (of course) and parks them at a hotel/resort, Les Oeillets (The Carnations), a place unknown to the children, where they have an adventure best described here, which along with fear, uncertainty and wariness, includes love, unfettered freedom, unexpected death, and affirmation (more from the book):

“ ‘You are the one who should write this, I told Joss. ‘It happened chiefly to you.’ But Joss shut that out, as she always shuts out things, or shuts them in so that no one can guess.

‘You are the one who likes words,’ said Joss. ‘Besides. . . and she paused, ‘it happened as much to you.’

I did not answer that. I am grown up now – or almost grown up – ‘and we still can’t get over it!’ said Joss.

‘Most people don’t have. . . that. . . in thirty or forty years,’ I said in defence.
‘Most people don’t have it at all,’ said Joss.

If I stop what I am doing for a moment, or in any time when I am quiet, in those cracks in the night that have been with me ever since when I cannot sleep and thoughts seep in, I am back; I can smell the Les Oeillets smells of hot dust and cool plaster walls, of jessamine and box leaves in the sun, of dew in the long grass; the smell that filled house and garden of Monsieur Armand’s cooking and the house’s own smell of damp linen, or furniture polish, and always, a little, of drains. I can hear the sounds that seem to belong only to Les Oeillets: the patter of the poplar trees along the courtyard wall, of a tap running in the kitchen mixed with the sound of high French voices, of the thump of Rex’s tail and another thump of someone washing clothes on the river bank; of barges puffing upstream and Mauricette’s toneless singing – she always sang through her nose; of Toinette and Nicole’s quick loud French as they talked to one another out of the upstairs windows; of the faint noise of the town and, near, the plop of a fish or of a greengage falling.

‘But you were glad enough to come back,’ said Uncle William.

‘We never came back,’ said Joss. ”

That’s all you get. A perfect summer read, will whisk you off to France, will charm you, will alarm you – a little – maybe more, and will remind you of that first flash of love’s flag in your heart and mind – of its power and pull and sweetness on others, and what’s ahead for you in this intoxicating life. . .

5 stars, rounded up, said she, her tongue swiping wide to catch the last bit of greengage juice racing down her chin. . .
Profile Image for Dorcas.
659 reviews206 followers
July 17, 2018
Five children are put up in a hotel in France after their mother falls desperately ill and is hospitalized. They are to name this time period, "Greengage Summer" after all the plums they ate in the hotel orchard.
Here at the hotel there is intrigue, mystery, love affairs and coming of age angst, as well as peaceful days of summer exploration.

While it seems like this is a book for kids, it's not really, as it deals with some rather adult themes. Nothing explicit but a child would be puzzled as to what is going on.

Also, if one knows French (I don't) there are French cuss words sprinkled throughout. I only know that because the dialog says that he cursed in French. It didn't really bother me because I didn't know the words anyway and just skipped over them.

Overall, another fine read from Rumer Godden.
Profile Image for Michael.
68 reviews4 followers
August 13, 2020
I forced myself to pick this up before August ended because I knew it'd be a perfect summer read (and it was!!!), but I had NO idea I would love it as much as I did (I say this in every other review I write here but it's always such a pleasant surprise!).

I'm normally not a fan of coming-of-age novels or novels with children as the protagonists, but like "The Gypsy In The Parlor" by Margery Sharp (who has a very similar kind of lighthearted, subtle but potent humor I adore and CHERISH because it's actually kind of rare), it's told by the main character's older self.

Rumer's style of writing is so vivid and colorful and detailed that now I can basically tell my friends I went to France on vacation. The descriptions of Les Oeillets are absolutely gorgeous.

I was a bit surprised to see some people thought this book was "dark". In my opinion there were so many funny moments and it was written in such a charming, airy way (which by no means detracts from how well crafted it was), and one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much. The scenes with boring old Uncle William, Hester and Willmouse (whose every line made me laugh out loud and whose name I might have to use for my future cat) were among some of my favorites, and even the darker moments weren't as dark as they'd be if written by a different author.

I also have to disagree with other people saying the first half of the book was too slow, because I actually preferred it to the more action packed second half - I loved exploring the hotel and seeing how it was run and walking through the town and meeting each and every character and going to French restaurants and churches - that honestly could've been the whole book for me and I'd still give it 5 stars. I also love the way Rumer weaved in Uncle William's commentary (whose every line, along with Willmouse, made me laugh - like when he introduces himself to the detectives with "My name is Bullock."). There was a lot of French in the book, which I don't speak, but the use of it here made sense to me, as almost all of the English characters didn't speak it either and it added to the fact they were outsiders.

I so look forward to reading more from Rumer Godden.
Profile Image for Sonia Gomes.
308 reviews94 followers
March 24, 2023
The Inspector wondered why do these children think of Eliot (the jewel thief) as 'God'.

He should have asked children, what was there to wonder about?

Eliot was the only one who had given them 'respect', something they had never had before. Something so intangible yet so very important for every person.
They had always lived as the poor relatives of Uncle William Bullock, to be tolerated because they were there, cannot be discarded can they?

Eliot treated Joss as the beautiful girl, he taught Cecil that every individual is beautiful, he never laughed at Willmouse and the 'littles' got all the love and affection from him.

The cold hearted Eliot, 'when on job' has no time for anyone, uses and discards women, Zizi is his cover on this job, much like the criminal Wolf from the 'Eye of the Needle'.
Do not be under any misapprehension, the children are a part of the cover too, but he loves them, give them a great deal more, for they are never the same after their holiday in France.

The only real victim is Paul, who realises that in comparison to the children, he is unclean, just a poor discarded orphan with nowhere to go and with a lot of broken dreams.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Jemidar.
211 reviews147 followers
January 3, 2013

This wasn't at all what I expected but in a good way. It's not my usual type of book so I was a little surprised that I liked it so much I read it in one sitting only putting it down for absolute necessities.

Ostensibly a coming of age story about the awakening of sexuality, it deals with ordinary people put in an extraordinary situation where unworldly children (ranging in ages from sixteen to four years old are suddenly thrust into a very worldly adult environment without proper supervision. How the various characters deal with the situation and each other is very human and natural--warts and all. The story is told through the innocent eyes of a thirteen year old girl and raises questions about perceptions, appearances, love, loyalty, deceit and the consequences of ones actions.

Apparently, this is based on a real story experienced by the author when she was abroad with her mother and siblings when she was 15 and her older sister was 18. Sometimes reality really is stranger than fiction.
Profile Image for Bobbie.
267 reviews12 followers
January 21, 2019
Retro Reads group read Jan. 2019
This was my first book by Rumer Godden and quite a surprise. I had never even heard of her though I recognize the titles of a few. I found this rather slow at first, but it certainly picked up speed as it went along. I loved the narrator's intelligence and insight into the many characters and events which evolved rather slowly. The sentences in French were rather annoying but some of it was explained so not too bad. I was appalled at the neglect of these children left almost on their own by most of the adults, but it was a different time and a different country, but still! I also was rather surprised by their reactions to the final events, but after all they were children. But, I did expect more from the older two, age 13 and 16. All in all, I rounded up from 3 1/2 stars but very intriguing. I believe I will want to read more by this author.
Profile Image for Moppet.
83 reviews27 followers
January 6, 2010
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 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.

Cross-posted (with additional material) to The Misadventures of Moppet
Profile Image for mike coleman.
104 reviews5 followers
December 17, 2013
Beautifully told story of an English girl's coming of age in a French village in the 1950s. The sumptuous descriptions of summer in the idyllic French countryside are counterpoint to a potent account of the less-than-idyllic behavior of a group of adults at a small hotel and their influence on the five children entrusted to their care.

Godden's split point of view adds dimension and depth to the story, lifting it beyond young adult novel territory. Most of the time, she is 13-year-old Cecil (short for Cecilia, I think, though Godden never says) Grey telling what happened to her brother, her sisters and herself that summer while their mother was in hospital. Occasionally, she steps back as the adult Cecil to comment on the action.

There is no Atticus Finch here. No guide for young Cecil in the midst of the maelstrom, much of it of a sexual nature that threatens to involve her 16-year-old sister Joss; she is her own moral compass, and her observations are admirably sharp and level-headed throughout the story. "I did not want to see all these things in Paul but since coming to Les Oeillets I seemed to see a long way into people, even when I did not wish it," she writes.

Fortunately, an English uncle steps in at the nick of time to save the day, but not before Cecil is given plenty of material to write about, including the dark actions of the one adult they thought they could trust at Les Oeillets.

Through the lens of 2013, it's clear the story wouldn't happen the same way today--surely the French equivalent of DFCS would have been called in as soon as mother Grey was taken ill--but what we have in Godden's novel from a far different time is a remarkable account of spirited and close-knit children hanging together to save their troubled family.

"Most grown people are like icebergs, three-tenths showing, seven-tenths submerged--that is why a collision with one of them is unexpectedly hurtful," writes Cecil. Thanks to Godden's bifocal storytelling, we know that Cecil lives, unscathed, for the most part, to tell the story vividly in this unforgettable book.
Profile Image for Vicki Antipodean Bookclub.
423 reviews33 followers
March 3, 2021
“I know now it is children who accept life; grown people cover it up and pretend it is different with drinks”
“Mam” is exasperated. Her husband is in Tibet cataloging ferns and her five children are proving inherently selfish. She takes them all to France on a mission to show them the WWI grave sites, but a horsefly bite leaves her stranded in hospital for 2 months whilst the children stay at their hotel, Les Oeillets, and roam around the town of Vieux-Moutiers. As the greengages in the hotel’s orchard slowly over-ripen and rot over summer, so Joss and Cecil, the two oldest girls, start to learn about adulthood and the fallibility of the adults around them

I read this as part of an online book club and we had some fantastic group discussions about the transition from child to adulthood and the experience of being that strange “neither one thing nor the other” age, like Cecil at thirteen. Based on a real experience from Rumer Godden’s life, there was a criminal element to the story that none of us expected

The Greengage Summer has has almost replaced I Capture the Castle in my affections as a coming-of-age story. My abiding memories of it will be
💫Grenadine Sirop
💫Strawberry ices at the plage
💫The experience of tasting champagne for the very first time
💫Gently crumbling, green-shuttered, honey-coloured buildings in the sun
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