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With the birth of her baby brother, eight-year-old Margaret Marsh is banished from the house every Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the idyllic English seaside—at peace between the world wars—with the family’s new, young, and bawdy maid. Largely ignored, the child has all the freedom she needs to observe and quietly condemn the adults around her. Gardam’s novel, originally pub With the birth of her baby brother, eight-year-old Margaret Marsh is banished from the house every Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the idyllic English seaside—at peace between the world wars—with the family’s new, young, and bawdy maid. Largely ignored, the child has all the freedom she needs to observe and quietly condemn the adults around her. Gardam’s novel, originally published in the UK in 1978, offers a searing blend of upended morals, delayed salvation, and emotional purgatory, especially where love and sex are concerned. Margaret’s mother, Elinor, begins to lose the faith thrust upon her by her zealot husband, who is bent on the conversion of the young maid, despite protest from both women. How perfect, then, that Mrs. Marsh’s childhood sweetheart should return to town and provide a decidedly secular contrast to her saintly husband. After a pivotal tea party, everyone hurtles toward inevitable tragedy, with Gardam’s intricate prose and keen divining of human nature driving the action.


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With the birth of her baby brother, eight-year-old Margaret Marsh is banished from the house every Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the idyllic English seaside—at peace between the world wars—with the family’s new, young, and bawdy maid. Largely ignored, the child has all the freedom she needs to observe and quietly condemn the adults around her. Gardam’s novel, originally pub With the birth of her baby brother, eight-year-old Margaret Marsh is banished from the house every Wednesday afternoon to enjoy the idyllic English seaside—at peace between the world wars—with the family’s new, young, and bawdy maid. Largely ignored, the child has all the freedom she needs to observe and quietly condemn the adults around her. Gardam’s novel, originally published in the UK in 1978, offers a searing blend of upended morals, delayed salvation, and emotional purgatory, especially where love and sex are concerned. Margaret’s mother, Elinor, begins to lose the faith thrust upon her by her zealot husband, who is bent on the conversion of the young maid, despite protest from both women. How perfect, then, that Mrs. Marsh’s childhood sweetheart should return to town and provide a decidedly secular contrast to her saintly husband. After a pivotal tea party, everyone hurtles toward inevitable tragedy, with Gardam’s intricate prose and keen divining of human nature driving the action.

30 review for God on the Rocks

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hugh

    Another one from the 1978 Booker shortlist. This was a very enjoyable read, but one which seems impossible to compare objectively with the last one I read, Rumours Of Rain - reading the two consecutively just makes you realise what a difficult job the judges have. Set in a Northern seaside town between the wars, the first part of the book is told from the point of view of Margaret, a precocious eight-year old who is starting to see beyond the strict religious indoctrination she has been brought Another one from the 1978 Booker shortlist. This was a very enjoyable read, but one which seems impossible to compare objectively with the last one I read, Rumours Of Rain - reading the two consecutively just makes you realise what a difficult job the judges have. Set in a Northern seaside town between the wars, the first part of the book is told from the point of view of Margaret, a precocious eight-year old who is starting to see beyond the strict religious indoctrination she has been brought up with, and the story then widens out to focus on the people around her. A lovely book full of deft comic touches, warmth, wisdom and intriguing perspectives.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    3.5 rounded up. This is Gardam's second novel for adults, published in 1978. She had written some short stories and children's books before this. Not as good as some of her later novels, it still shows her ability to take a simple plot at first glance and weave it into something much more intricate by the last page. Her characters are imperfect human beings who make mistakes and keep secrets, but continue to soldier on the best way they know how. I am a fan of all her books, and still have a few 3.5 rounded up. This is Gardam's second novel for adults, published in 1978. She had written some short stories and children's books before this. Not as good as some of her later novels, it still shows her ability to take a simple plot at first glance and weave it into something much more intricate by the last page. Her characters are imperfect human beings who make mistakes and keep secrets, but continue to soldier on the best way they know how. I am a fan of all her books, and still have a few to look forward to. Here we have eight year old Margaret, a precocious only child, who resents the new brother her parents have presented her with. She is sent off for a treat every Wednesday afternoon with the new maid, Lydia, who is a far cry from her ultra religious parents. She does indeed get treats, in the form of language and experiences that are new to her, and a course of events is set in action. I was left with a couple of unanswered questions at the end, but was mostly satisfied at the twists and turns the story takes. Even early Jane Gardam is better than some and shows the later genius she became with the Old Filth trilogy.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Laura Leaney

    An exceptional book - one that defies genre. The novel, set during one summer on the coast of England in the 1930s, focuses primarily on 8 year-old Margaret Marsh, the daughter of a bank manager who preaches the gospel on "the sands" in his spare time and a mother who is a large, soft, submissive dreamer-type. The point of view is omniscient, and although we are in Margaret's keenly intelligent world for a good long time, the story drifts (sometimes jarringly) into the minds and hearts of others An exceptional book - one that defies genre. The novel, set during one summer on the coast of England in the 1930s, focuses primarily on 8 year-old Margaret Marsh, the daughter of a bank manager who preaches the gospel on "the sands" in his spare time and a mother who is a large, soft, submissive dreamer-type. The point of view is omniscient, and although we are in Margaret's keenly intelligent world for a good long time, the story drifts (sometimes jarringly) into the minds and hearts of others, including Margaret's mother. The impetus for much of the drama comes in the form of the h-dropping, h-adding bawdy Lydia, who has been hired to help Margaret's mother after she has a baby boy. Conversations between Lydia and Margaret are hilarious, charming, and revealing - in that much of the dysfunctional family dynamic becomes clear. I was often taken by surprise but I never experienced disbelief. Margaret, bored by the fuss over the baby, has a fascinating truth-seeking mind. She sees her parents with a tragicomic clarity. By comparison, the rest of the cast are "nutters." Gardam's writing is lyrical and compressed. The book is very short, yet the whole of it seems an examination of religion, culture, social class, and sexuality. I think the book is a small treasure.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Warwick

    Renoir, Young Girl in the Garden at Mézy, 1891 Written in the 1970s but set forty years earlier, this is one of those quiet, revelatory novels of family secrets and childhood understanding whose sensitivity to melancholy seems so well-suited to that period in Britain between the wars. It's a lovely novel. Though no passages of writing leapt out at me, I'm left with a strong jumble of impressions of English seaside towns, men picking through the surf with trouser-legs rolled up and knotted handkerc Renoir, Young Girl in the Garden at Mézy, 1891 Written in the 1970s but set forty years earlier, this is one of those quiet, revelatory novels of family secrets and childhood understanding whose sensitivity to melancholy seems so well-suited to that period in Britain between the wars. It's a lovely novel. Though no passages of writing leapt out at me, I'm left with a strong jumble of impressions of English seaside towns, men picking through the surf with trouser-legs rolled up and knotted handkerchiefs on their head, a heavy sense of memory and lost opportunities, a productive opposition between dogmatic religious fervour and a joyous, fleshy sexuality. Except for the charming and serious eight-year-old, Margaret, most of the people in here are obsessed with choices they made years before, looking back variously to spoiled romances, to the first War, to when they still had money, to before dementia set in. This sense of looking back is reinforced by an epilogue set after 1945, and the effect is to make all the characters seem clear but also somehow indistinct, impressionistically blurred by memory. They are not unlike figures in a Renoir painting, one of which – perhaps the one above – plays a small, pivotal role in the story. Gardam seems like a wise and generous storyteller and I will definitely read more of her.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Well, add this to my growing list of Gardam books read and enjoyed. Gardam has a way of viewing everyday people and finding their warts, displaying them lovingly, and making their stories fun to read, with a combination of the comic and pathos. There are some broadly comic moments in this novel but also lots of soul searching as the characters try to figure out how their lives have led to the current point. I recommend reading and enjoying.

  6. 5 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    My Dad has always been a great sports fan. When I was young, the TV stayed on all Saturday afternoon, which meant that I was exposed from an early age to a litany of magical names: Plumpton, Pontefract and Newbury, Hexham, Fakenham, Taunton. The winners were even more exotic: Humble Pie beat Mother's Pride, Redhotfillypepper came in third. There was a comment at the end of every result that intrigued me as a kid. "Five ran". I was convinced it meant that five of the horses had been disqualified My Dad has always been a great sports fan. When I was young, the TV stayed on all Saturday afternoon, which meant that I was exposed from an early age to a litany of magical names: Plumpton, Pontefract and Newbury, Hexham, Fakenham, Taunton. The winners were even more exotic: Humble Pie beat Mother's Pride, Redhotfillypepper came in third. There was a comment at the end of every result that intrigued me as a kid. "Five ran". I was convinced it meant that five of the horses had been disqualified for running instead of galloping. Gardam tells this tale from the point of view of eight year old Margaret, a child who also misinterprets what she hears. She and her mother are a little early for tea with Mother's much posher friend Binkie: "I don't like to be too early" "Oh let's" said Margaret "No dear. She may still be changing." "Changing!" "Yes, dear, Binkie always changes in the afternoons." (From what? Into what? Spiders? Fairies? Serpents?...) And it's not just the eight year old Margaret who falls prey to the curse of the homonym. Binkie herself has a bit of a breakdown with Father Carter, and bewails her life looking after her unmarried brother - she was at Girton you know. Father Carter tries to be sympathetic: "I'm sure it must be dull. Dull for you now. Here. It is a very great waste..." Through her tears the words of Thomas à Kempis went straying on. 'Oh if these things had a sweet savour and pierced to the bottom of thy heart how couldst thou dare so much as once to complain?' then she thought that he had said something about her waist. He had said that she was fat. "I was thin. I was thin as could be," she wept, looking into his face. "At Cambridge. If you had known me then...." It must be a sign of intelligence. Unconventional thinking. And being so sure of your own convictions that there's no need to make that clarifying query. I don't need to ask what it means I know what it means. A favourite story about one of our daughters: they were brought up bi-lingually, so knew all about languages and different speakers. In German, most names of languages end in the syllable 'isch': Spanisch, Englisch, Italienisch. Once in a busy restaurant with the whole family, her cousin over on the other side of the table told a joke. "Daniel, can you tell that one again? I didn't get it." He asked "Akoustisch?" , which in German is the quick way to ask do you mean you didn't hear (acoustically) or you didn't understand? She looked at him for a moment, and then said: "Nein - Deutsch."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    This was the first of the books I read as part of a group project to read through the 1978 Booker prize shortlist. It was surprisingly good; I think I had some mistaken idea that Jane Gardam wrote children's books and not serious lit. The parts I liked best were those filtered through the pov of Margaret when she was a child. This strategy is something that sometimes works (Bowen's the House in Paris) and sometimes doesn't (cf. What Maisie Knew, which I found pretty terrible), but it works brill This was the first of the books I read as part of a group project to read through the 1978 Booker prize shortlist. It was surprisingly good; I think I had some mistaken idea that Jane Gardam wrote children's books and not serious lit. The parts I liked best were those filtered through the pov of Margaret when she was a child. This strategy is something that sometimes works (Bowen's the House in Paris) and sometimes doesn't (cf. What Maisie Knew, which I found pretty terrible), but it works brilliantly here. I think part of it is that Margaret is not simply lacking in information that we have as readers, but also that she is very perceptive in other ways. She has instincts about situations even when she doesn't have quite the same understanding that an adult has, and this works very well. Her dislike (too strong a word perhaps? her distaste I almost want to say, for her mother) of her mother also has a quality that rings true as well, and is nicely handled. It's nice to see it appear at all in a work of fiction, frankly, as I think this kind of reaction and relationship may be more common that it seems from the heartfelt fiction that knows only closeness or abuse and nothing in between. I also enjoyed the humor -- there were many moments where a situation or a well-turned phrase actually made me laugh (as opposed to thinking "oh, that's funny"). It doesn't hurt, for me anyway, that much of the humor is at the expense of the hypocritical heavy religious nutjob characters. There were parts that seemed out of place. I'm ambivalent about them, as they were also sometimes very successful little pieces of writing in their own right. I'm thinking here of the monologue of Nurse Booth, which doesn't seem to have much to do with anything, but which is nonetheless quite successful. I feel like a longer book, perhaps something starting towards an Iris Murdoch-y kind of mode, could have incorporated this kind of thing better. As it was, there seemed to be a focus on Margaret with enjoyable but unnecessary digressions. Other random striking things: Lydia's final monologue, so worth the price of admission. Also, the women's bodies and their connection to sex -- the recurring image was one of bigness, heaviness, of flesh straining to burst, and this was appealing to all and sundry, an irresistible sensual being which has nothing to do with the way we think or talk about sexiness today.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I am going to start by advising against choosing the audiobook narrated by Maggie Ollerenshaw. Her narration got between me and the author’s words. I found myself listening to the intonation rather than the specific words. I became confused about who was talking. There is a lot of dialog, and colloquialisms abound. On one hand this is good because such augments the atmosphere, but at times I failed to understand what was inferred. The intonation enhances this problem; in dialogs words are too of I am going to start by advising against choosing the audiobook narrated by Maggie Ollerenshaw. Her narration got between me and the author’s words. I found myself listening to the intonation rather than the specific words. I became confused about who was talking. There is a lot of dialog, and colloquialisms abound. On one hand this is good because such augments the atmosphere, but at times I failed to understand what was inferred. The intonation enhances this problem; in dialogs words are too often slurred, indistinct, mumbled or exclaimed. Probably this was done to make the dialect accurate, to show how people really would say the words, but I needed to hear those words so I could comprehend the text! Anyhow, I did end up understanding what happened, but the struggle annoyed me. The author also does not move forward chronologically. The two together added to my confusion. I like the author's manner of writing. I am speaking of the dialog and the intermediary prose. The sentences are short and abrupt; they often leave you with the sense that more is being said than the words themselves. I like this because it is up to you to fill in the meaning. The dialogs feel genuine. This is how people talk! Innuendos lie under the surface and the reader must determine what is implied. How one talks is not how one writes! Both must be mastered to achieve success in a novel. The characters in this book are from different social groups and you hear this in how they express themselves. I like this too. Jane Gardam wonderfully depicts different social groups and the atmosphere of a time and place. Here it is British provincial life between the two wars. This she does to a tee. I have filed this under historical fiction, not because it tells history but rather because it so well mirrors the life style of a group of people set in time and place. The effects of World War I lie as a blanket over all that follows. Later the book shifts forward in time and we see how all that happened in the story has shaped the future too. I like the continuity of this. The book, through its plot and what the character say, leaves a message. Every book has to have something to say, right? Well, I like what it says, not that I can necessarily live as it says one should. (view spoiler)[A person need not fully understand all that has happened; sometimes it is better to let the past lie. Move on in life; don’t dwell in the past. (hide spoiler)] It leaves a message you can remind yourself of. It is something to think about. It is not hammered in. Religion can be pushed to an extreme. A religious person might focus more on this theme, but I would widen the idea to say that most anything can be pushed to an extreme. I am unsure to what extent the narration of the audiobook has distracted me and thus has influenced my rating of the book. I try to separate the two but am unsure if I have succeeded here. I have given the book three stars, but the narration only two. Two because I understood most of that which was said, but it detracted from my appreciation of the author’s lines. ********************** The books I have read by Jane Gardam in order of appreciation: Bilgewater (4 stars) Crusoe's Daughter (4 stars) Old Filth (4 stars) The Man in the Wooden Hat ( 4 stars) God on the Rocks (3 stars)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sandy

    Not my kind of book. The attempt at humour is not funny to me. Sense of humour varies greatly from one person to another. The plot is total nonsense until the end, when the entire convoluted explanation is crammed into the final five pages. I did not relate to any of the characters. Near the end of the book, I was still having to stop and think with each change of scene — “Now who are these people?”. My first book by this author. Now, the question is “Should I give her a second chance? Did she w Not my kind of book. The attempt at humour is not funny to me. Sense of humour varies greatly from one person to another. The plot is total nonsense until the end, when the entire convoluted explanation is crammed into the final five pages. I did not relate to any of the characters. Near the end of the book, I was still having to stop and think with each change of scene — “Now who are these people?”. My first book by this author. Now, the question is “Should I give her a second chance? Did she write any novels which are better than (i.e. different from) this one?”

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence

    I have not read a five-star book in a while and I am glad that this book was still lying around after my wife had read it and other books by Ms. Gardam. I think of "God on the Rocks" as an understated comedy. At the beautiful, well crafted ending, loose ends in the lives of the characters, living and dead, are tied up, and life histories and resolutions are summed up. For example, the revelation of who Mr. Beezer-Iremonger actually is. For example, the fulfillment and onward movement of Charles a I have not read a five-star book in a while and I am glad that this book was still lying around after my wife had read it and other books by Ms. Gardam. I think of "God on the Rocks" as an understated comedy. At the beautiful, well crafted ending, loose ends in the lives of the characters, living and dead, are tied up, and life histories and resolutions are summed up. For example, the revelation of who Mr. Beezer-Iremonger actually is. For example, the fulfillment and onward movement of Charles and Elinor. For example, the return of Lydia, the Marshes' maid and the odd angel of the small group. For example, the capacity of Margaret to continue to love and the wonder of her not being a victim and of her freedom from a guilt that other writers might dwell on. The title is an interesting one. Mr. Marsh is a major character because it is his existence that drives the current situation of the characters. The title references his religiosity and his slipping off the rock at the Eastkirk(?) beach during a finely written moment of sexual tension with the suspicious Lydia --- an event that he turns into a revival meeting. It also references the foundering of the lifeboat on the rocks where Margaret is stranded and Mr. Marsh's drowning. It references the small, neat, sometimes ridiculous, but always human, Mr. Marsh at his ridiculous and his sublime moments. There are some lovely funny scenes. For example, the slipping off the rock, mentioned above. Also, the flight of Elinor to the house of Charles and Binkie and the remarkable loss of her clothing to a rummage sale donation. Also, there's Lydia's pleasure at shedding her corset and brassiere at the tree. And, throughout, Margaret views all with a dispassionate eye. Just marvellous. Definitely a keeper.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn Stevens Shank

    If you haven't read any of Jane Gardam's books, you are missing a real reader's delight. GOD ON THE ROCKS is one of the earlier ones. It was short-listed for the Booker Award. I became so enamored of her work after reading her triology: OLD FILTH; THE MAN IN THE WOODEN HAT; and LAST FRIENDS, all of which struck me as genial, humorous and wonderfully constructed. I became a "groupie," so to speak. Ms. Gardam is one of Britain's unrevealed literary treasures and her work has won numerous awards, If you haven't read any of Jane Gardam's books, you are missing a real reader's delight. GOD ON THE ROCKS is one of the earlier ones. It was short-listed for the Booker Award. I became so enamored of her work after reading her triology: OLD FILTH; THE MAN IN THE WOODEN HAT; and LAST FRIENDS, all of which struck me as genial, humorous and wonderfully constructed. I became a "groupie," so to speak. Ms. Gardam is one of Britain's unrevealed literary treasures and her work has won numerous awards, including two prized Whitbread Awards. God of the Rocks is a coming of age story set during a summer between World Wars. Margaret Marsh, the protagonist, is a feisty precocious eight-year old, the child of a religious fundamentalist and a slightly embittered mother. What I love about Jane Gardam's books are the wonderful characters she creates. They live and breathe ... and now and then, shock us with the honesty of how they see the world. Her dialogue runs true. When I pick up one of her books, I know I am in for a jolly good time.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mij Woodward

    I loved this book so much, I am now nonplussed, and can barely make any sense with my words of praise. The humor, so divine. (Oops--I think I just unintenionally made a pun, considering some of the subject matter of this novel.) The thing I love most about Jane Gardam's writing, is that she pokes fun at each of her characters. So, you have some fun, as the reader, in seeing these flaws and laughing at their foibles. Yet while this poking fun is going on, one also cannot help but fall in love with e I loved this book so much, I am now nonplussed, and can barely make any sense with my words of praise. The humor, so divine. (Oops--I think I just unintenionally made a pun, considering some of the subject matter of this novel.) The thing I love most about Jane Gardam's writing, is that she pokes fun at each of her characters. So, you have some fun, as the reader, in seeing these flaws and laughing at their foibles. Yet while this poking fun is going on, one also cannot help but fall in love with each character, or at least, come to understand and admire them, and root for them, flaws and all. So, that's what I did here, and devoured each page and chapter about these people, getting caught up in their personal dramas, wondering how it would all come out in the end, smiling or chuckling at every other page. Loved how things tied together in the end. Beautiful, beautiful little novel.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Theresa

    What I love about Gardam is that her characters are often surprising. There is no cheap psychology at work. They are credible because they are not predictable. Here and there a sentence will stop you cold, like, "Still and quiet and almost looking flimsily aged at ten years old she had loved him and he had the blessing of having someone it was quite safe to hurt." This about two children who were friends. The thing with Gardam is that the characters are so recognizable, and might reveal something a What I love about Gardam is that her characters are often surprising. There is no cheap psychology at work. They are credible because they are not predictable. Here and there a sentence will stop you cold, like, "Still and quiet and almost looking flimsily aged at ten years old she had loved him and he had the blessing of having someone it was quite safe to hurt." This about two children who were friends. The thing with Gardam is that the characters are so recognizable, and might reveal something about you that you had perhaps been mistaken about for many years. Such a pleasure to read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Polansky

    Ooo. Oooh! Excellent. A summer in north England between the Wars, a precocious young girl and the horrible adults who surround her; a puritanical father, a weak mother, a lascivious nanny, a bunch of other less than lovely, though sympathetic and understandable, characters. This is very well written, but rarer (at least among a lot of the books I find myself reading) it is masterfully plotted, offering the sort of narrative anticipation that high literature often feels like it doesn't need to bo Ooo. Oooh! Excellent. A summer in north England between the Wars, a precocious young girl and the horrible adults who surround her; a puritanical father, a weak mother, a lascivious nanny, a bunch of other less than lovely, though sympathetic and understandable, characters. This is very well written, but rarer (at least among a lot of the books I find myself reading) it is masterfully plotted, offering the sort of narrative anticipation that high literature often feels like it doesn't need to bother with (sidenote: it is generally wrong). Excellent all around, I'll definitely keep an eye out for more by Ms. Gardam. Another library book, but I'd keep this in principal.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Thanks to the overwhelming popularity of Old Filth, Jane Gardham is at last finding her earlier works being reissued and made available. Although written thirty years before Atonement, this book shares similarities in that they both deal with how misinterpretations from the past can affect the present, and regrets for actions taken can leave unhealed wounds. Gardham releases information only as needed with an economy of purpose so there is not an unnecessary word. Her characters are filled with Thanks to the overwhelming popularity of Old Filth, Jane Gardham is at last finding her earlier works being reissued and made available. Although written thirty years before Atonement, this book shares similarities in that they both deal with how misinterpretations from the past can affect the present, and regrets for actions taken can leave unhealed wounds. Gardham releases information only as needed with an economy of purpose so there is not an unnecessary word. Her characters are filled with breadth and scope, her situations believable. She is able to short points of view almost unnoticed, giving the story its three dimensional quality. There are also several scenes of high farce, surprising in a story seemingly so serious. Highly recommended.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

    Margaret is a precociously intelligent 8 year old who has been raised in a strictly religious family. She can recite chapter and verse from the bible to cover most situations and has an insight beyond her years as well as the naïveté of a child. She weaves her way into the lives of the other characters who, as always with Jane Gardam, are a bit off the wall, particularly the delightful Lydia. It's classic Gardam through and through with lots of twists and turns along the way. I've given it 3 sta Margaret is a precociously intelligent 8 year old who has been raised in a strictly religious family. She can recite chapter and verse from the bible to cover most situations and has an insight beyond her years as well as the naïveté of a child. She weaves her way into the lives of the other characters who, as always with Jane Gardam, are a bit off the wall, particularly the delightful Lydia. It's classic Gardam through and through with lots of twists and turns along the way. I've given it 3 stars because I didn't enjoy it quite as much as some others but it's a 3+ or 4- really (for all that matters!).

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bruce Katz

    An odd concoction of a book, neither one thing nor the other. At times the dialogue seems drawn from an old drawing room comedy or one of those black and white films from the 30s with witty repartee. (A perfectly suitable analogy, given that the book is set on the coast of England between the wars.) At other times dense and rather sad. Serious in its examination of class, religion, memory and dreams, of tensions between parents and their children. In fact, I was struck by how wildly the book see An odd concoction of a book, neither one thing nor the other. At times the dialogue seems drawn from an old drawing room comedy or one of those black and white films from the 30s with witty repartee. (A perfectly suitable analogy, given that the book is set on the coast of England between the wars.) At other times dense and rather sad. Serious in its examination of class, religion, memory and dreams, of tensions between parents and their children. In fact, I was struck by how wildly the book seems to veer from one emotional tone to another: from wordplay and ribald set pieces to touching scenes of frustrated dreams and regretted acts. In my mind, it is this back and forth movement that left me liking the book well enough -- it is Jane Gardam, after all -- but not very enthusiastically. The book opens in a tone reminiscent of, say, a Jane Austin novel. Sort of. Because the baby had come, special attention had to be given to Margaret, who was eight. On Wednesdays therefore she was to go out with Lydia the maid for the whole afternoon. Wherever Lydia liked. So long as Margaret's mother knew of course where that was. On one of these day trips, Margaret, a precicious and spirited girl, wears "a cotton dress with smocking along the back as well as the front. 'It's only by the back you can tell,' her mother always said. 'You can tell a nice child from the back.' Some gulf obtained between Margaret and children with undecorated backs." A gulf indeed. Lydia is quite a character. Ribald, forthright, self-confident. Uneducated and unrefined ("I'll do nowt. Not owt. I's sweating) but wise to how the world works. The first half of the book centers around Margaret's household -- mother, father, Lydia, and baby Terrence, whom Margaret rather resents. One day, Margaret has a conversation with her mother ("a great breast-feeder at a time when it was fashionable to be otherwise") about the religious belief her father holds so close. She says, "If I'd been God I'd have left it at dinosaurs. I'd have been satisfied looking down at that." For which her mother reprimands her, saying "we believe in Genesis here." She continues: "Most people believe in myths -- you know what myths are? -- invented by Sir Charles Darwin about how we grew out of fishes and monkeys and things." Blasphemy, Mother explains, means "taking the name of God lightly,' to which Margaret rejoins, "Better than heavily." The scene concludes with Mother muttering about how God "made us in his own image," then: She looked at the trussed baby, face down, its red head like a tilted orange rearing yp and down on the undersheet as if desperately trying to escape. Giving up, it let its head drop into suffocation position and there was another explosion followed by a long, liquid spluttering from further down the cot: and a smell. "Oh dear," said Mrs Marsh contented, "now I'll have to start all over again with a new nappy. Could you hand me the bucket, darling?" "His own image," said Margaret watching the horrible unwrapping. "If God looks like us... What's the point? Scenes like these seem to appear primarily -- perhaps only -- when it is young Margaret who is in the author's sight. The tone becomes more serious when she writes of adults. Margaret's mother -- Elinor -- is deeply frustrated in her marriage. One evening, she thinks back (as she often does) to her childhood, the time she spent in the company of two children from a wealthy family. A complicated relationship, complicated for many reasons. She recalls in particular one afternoon spent in the rich family's library with Charles, the son. He playing with toy soldiers, she reading a book, when they are called away. I'll quote a passage in full to demonstrate the emotional and psychological weight Gardam gives these moments. The woman, Elinor, recollects: It was the end that day, Elinor thought now, putting Terence into his crib. Even though I went back again, that day was the end. I was fourteen. Now I'm thirty-six. Yet it has never changed for me. The deep silence... seemed to suggest that there was a formidable audience somewhere in the house considering Ellie. In fact all grew so still that she became afraid and walked out on to the landing. Her husband, her daughter and Lydia were all downstairs in the tiny house, yet there was not a sound. Even the baby slept. Pressing around her alertly were a dozen sad ghosts. Mother and father knew, she thought. They knew how I loved being at the Hall but they never asked about it. I suppose they thought it was charity. It was a different age. It was medieval. The War was supposed to change it all... All wars are meant to change it all. What a very odd thing to have thought, she said to the staircase wall and walked back into her bedroom. That's what the book was -- the one I was reading that day. It was War and Peace and I've just remembered. I never did finish it. But it's what it was about -- war not changing anything. Her thoughts are interrupted by the sound of "a long hollow crumpling noise from war away which might have been a storm if it had not been such a balmy evening." This noise, heard more than once, is never explained. But the reader senses what it is: the fate that lies before Elinor and those around her. The coming war that will change everything. As indeed, everything changes over the course of the book. Sometimes raucously, sometimes with sad sobriety. As I said, it's an odd little book, not at all like the author's better known "Old Filth". Frequently very funny, occasionally quite confusing (the story jumps from person to person, not all of them entirely sane: a significant part of the book takes place in a building that was once home to the wealthy family and became a residence for people with mental disabilities of some sort), and sometimes serious, even portentous. The reader just has to hold the reins loosely and let the book go where it wants to go. I found it mostly worth the ride, if a bit less than satisfying.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Jane Gardam, in my experience, has never written a bad or even mediocre book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    George

    3.5 stars. An entertaining, charming, concisely written, intriguingly plotted, humorous, tragic, short, eventful novel set in an English seaside town in the 1930s. Life in the seaside town is well described. For eight year old Margaret, her summer is memorable. Margaret meets her mother’s old boyfriend of 12 years ago and his sister Binko, and Drinkwater, an old painter. Margaret has a couple of adventures, being allowed to go off on her own an amuse herself. During the first half of the book th 3.5 stars. An entertaining, charming, concisely written, intriguingly plotted, humorous, tragic, short, eventful novel set in an English seaside town in the 1930s. Life in the seaside town is well described. For eight year old Margaret, her summer is memorable. Margaret meets her mother’s old boyfriend of 12 years ago and his sister Binko, and Drinkwater, an old painter. Margaret has a couple of adventures, being allowed to go off on her own an amuse herself. During the first half of the book the reader is introduced to a number of interesting characters. The plot momentum certainly picks up during the second half of the novel. Shortlisted for the 1978 Booker Prize.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    A finalist for the Booker Prize in 1978, God on the Rocks once again showcases the substantial storytelling and writing skills of Jane Gardam. I can use the expression “once again” because: 1.) I only heard about her less than a month ago when I received her first book, “A Long Way from Verona” 2.) This is the third book of hers I have read in the past 19 days and 3.) I am hoping she reads my reviews and contacts me for a cup of tea and a little chat about her books. This novel takes place during A finalist for the Booker Prize in 1978, God on the Rocks once again showcases the substantial storytelling and writing skills of Jane Gardam. I can use the expression “once again” because: 1.) I only heard about her less than a month ago when I received her first book, “A Long Way from Verona” 2.) This is the third book of hers I have read in the past 19 days and 3.) I am hoping she reads my reviews and contacts me for a cup of tea and a little chat about her books. This novel takes place during the suffocating heat of the summer of 1936 in a small, English coastal village. Eight-year old, precocious Margaret Marsh lives with her mother, father and baby brother at Seaview Villas. Her father, a respected bank manager turned preacher on the weekends, perceives the world through his conservative, narrow interpretation of the Bible and imposes those views relentlessly upon his family. Margaret’s claustrophobic life with him has been a never ending tape of Bible lessons; by the time she is eight, she knows her Scripture. Spouting specific references, she makes connections to her life throughout the novel, her father never quite sure if her motives are respectful. Her mother, living in a breast-feeding, distracted fog with a newborn, alternately deals with Margaret using her recently acquired Freudian knowledge and echoing her husband’s Primal Saints Church theology. Enter Lydia, the sensual young woman, “a real bobby-dazzler,” who has only recently come into their lives to assist with the baby. Kenneth Marsh views her as a sure sign from God that she must be “saved.” Elinor Marsh sees Lydia as her personal savior helping with a new baby and for Margaret with whom she provides a weekly “treat” excursion to nearby Eastkirk. While on these weekly excursions, largely left to explore on her own, Margaret discovers another world, which has unexpected connections to her mother’s past. As the weekly excursions continue, Elinor fears Lydia is changing the family, which frightens her, and Kenneth, attracted to Lydia, plans to pray through it. The ever-perceptive Margaret, trying to navigate her life with the new baby has a visceral observation. ‘“What are you thinking, sweet Margaret?’ her mother asked. ‘That everyone’s mad,’ Margaret shouted.” Ah, precocious Margaret. Gardam is a gifted story teller weaving memorable characters within surprising plot lines. Margaret’s feelings about the new baby and the world around her are affirmed by her new artist friend, Mr. Drinkwater, who makes similar connections to the world he lives in. What Margaret doesn’t know is that this friend lives on a beautiful property that is actually a mental asylum. In the meantime, Mrs. Marsh takes Margaret to tea, introducing her to her old and very dear friends, Binkie and Charlie. Mr. Marsh, tagging along on a weekly excursion, begins to preach on the beach, “God on the rocks,” and begins to draw a curious crowd. And the story just becomes more compelling with Gardam alternating among the characters, visiting the past and returning to the present, revealing secrets, regrets, grudges and sacrifices. The summer offers Margaret one startling revelation after another. She observes, “Father…is not clever like Charlie and Binkie…but, poor thing, he tries to be good.” Her mother’s lament, “It’s because I never went away that no one will ever think I’m clever. Charlie and Binkie were at Cambridge…a place for clever people” is the “most astonishing thing Margaret had ever experienced.” The remaining third of the novel involves scenes that are hilarious, poignant and heartbreaking, bringing insight and epiphanies to the characters and setting life-changing events into motion. Among so many other things, Charlie acknowledges his shallowness, the mistakes he has made trading Elinor for his inheritance, which he lost anyway; Elinor realizes she has been living in a “mad house;” Rosalie Farley, Charlie and Binkie’s mother, attempts to right an old wrong; and Father Carter observes “Here are the survivors – strong and well and bitterly unhappy. With nothing to do. Whatever has Christianity to offer this one?” Kenneth Marsh risks all to save his daughter from drowning, the daughter he barely noticed except when “saving” her through Scripture. The story moves forward to 1947, and the reader learns what has happened to the little town and the people since that last stormy summer night. Binkie, steadfast as ever, offers her own memories from the past, narrating and filtering what might be helpful to Margaret and her younger brothers. “Mother was a snob…she was a bit of a joke really but nobody minded. She belonged to the past.” Her caution to Margaret, now 20 years old and quite brilliant, is filled with wisdom, “Because there’s a lot it’s not wise to fuss over. To prise out. Extract. It is best just to look and be.” If the final scene weren’t strong enough, Lydia comes upon the group who are all delighted to see her again and marvel at how time seems to have stood still for her. Lydia, who truly saved them all those years ago, who set them free, says, “Oh, our Margaret, but I have (changed)…I were bloody daft them days.” God on the rocks, indeed, and I just have a little milk in my tea, Jane.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Flo

    Jane Gardam's books are a treat. She is funny, she is wicked, she is smart and oh so sly. I felt this when reading her wonderful book, Filth and its sequel, and I felt it now, reading God on the Rocks. The story begins innocently enough being told from the point of view of Margaret, an 8 year old, whose mother lavishes her attentions on her new baby brother. Her father is strict in his strange faith and preaches to all and sundry. Margaret can quote chapter and verse of every biblical saying. Th Jane Gardam's books are a treat. She is funny, she is wicked, she is smart and oh so sly. I felt this when reading her wonderful book, Filth and its sequel, and I felt it now, reading God on the Rocks. The story begins innocently enough being told from the point of view of Margaret, an 8 year old, whose mother lavishes her attentions on her new baby brother. Her father is strict in his strange faith and preaches to all and sundry. Margaret can quote chapter and verse of every biblical saying. The fun begins when Margaret is given the treat of a day outing with the nanny, Lydia, and both end up on the grounds of the Hall, once the home of Charles and Binky and where Margaret's mother, Ellie, was schooled, adored Charles and he her, but is now a home for mental patients. The story moves to Ellie, we learn that Charles and his sister have after 12 years returned to town, but not to their old home where their mother is dying, and the plot as they say thickens. A lot of hanky-panky, a few absolutely hilarious English teas, various weird and slightly mad characters all meeting and parting--all under the finely controlled pen of Jane Gardam.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    Jane Gardam is again good for a psychological story of families and interpersonal relationships. God on the Rocks is set between word wars in an English village occupied by a group of extremely devout, daresay fringe, Christians. Margaret's father is one of their leaders, and the reader explores her mother's choice to join this group when she gets to know Mrs. Marsh's childhood friends, Charles and Binkie. There are secrets everywhere but in a traditional Gardam way that is more a reflection of Jane Gardam is again good for a psychological story of families and interpersonal relationships. God on the Rocks is set between word wars in an English village occupied by a group of extremely devout, daresay fringe, Christians. Margaret's father is one of their leaders, and the reader explores her mother's choice to join this group when she gets to know Mrs. Marsh's childhood friends, Charles and Binkie. There are secrets everywhere but in a traditional Gardam way that is more a reflection of reality that an attempt at shock. Examining choices of her mother while also coming to terms with the beginning of the end of her childhood, Margaret Marsh is another compelling character in the Jane Gardam canon. I preferred Crusoe's Daughter to this novel, but both are compelling and well written stories of women in the early to mid-20th century.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ann G. Daniels

    This might be a different review if I were British, or very old. But as a 21st-century American, it seems to me that Jane Gardam's genius is to offer us a world not so terribly far away but completely foreign to us now, and make it so real that for a brief span of pages we live and breathe in it. In God on the Rocks, we see the world through the eyes of a young girl in a seaside town in England between the world wars. Her world begins in her narrow, joylessly fundamentalist family home; it gradu This might be a different review if I were British, or very old. But as a 21st-century American, it seems to me that Jane Gardam's genius is to offer us a world not so terribly far away but completely foreign to us now, and make it so real that for a brief span of pages we live and breathe in it. In God on the Rocks, we see the world through the eyes of a young girl in a seaside town in England between the world wars. Her world begins in her narrow, joylessly fundamentalist family home; it gradually and mysteriously expands to include other people, other families, and other households, who bring with them longing, love, hatred, sex, and madness.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    wonderful little book of manners set in northern england, complete with Cambridge grad washouts, Saints-on-earth preachers, precocious little girls, and very little sex (but enough it seems). if you have not read any Gardam, you should soon. and Jane Gardam would be a great author for Miette's bedtime stories podcasts http://www.miettecast.com/ fernando pessoa is her latest "Letter from a Hunchback Girl to a Metalworker" she's a goodreads person too http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/80... wonderful little book of manners set in northern england, complete with Cambridge grad washouts, Saints-on-earth preachers, precocious little girls, and very little sex (but enough it seems). if you have not read any Gardam, you should soon. and Jane Gardam would be a great author for Miette's bedtime stories podcasts http://www.miettecast.com/ fernando pessoa is her latest "Letter from a Hunchback Girl to a Metalworker" she's a goodreads person too http://www.goodreads.com/user/show/80...

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I loved this book---thought it was delightful and fun to read. The characters were of a time period and group that was new to me and I was intrigued. This was the last book I read from my friend Doris' list, who is/was a very discerning reader, and by golly, if she really likes a book I'm likely to like it as well. I loved this book---thought it was delightful and fun to read. The characters were of a time period and group that was new to me and I was intrigued. This was the last book I read from my friend Doris' list, who is/was a very discerning reader, and by golly, if she really likes a book I'm likely to like it as well.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Deana

    The characters were vaguely interesting, but the book didn't really go anywhere. Call me crazy, but when I'm promised a twist in the plot, I'd like it to be interesting. This was a huge disappointment. The characters were vaguely interesting, but the book didn't really go anywhere. Call me crazy, but when I'm promised a twist in the plot, I'd like it to be interesting. This was a huge disappointment.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    Jane Gardam is becoming one of my favourite writers. This was published in 1978 and was shortlisted for the Booker prize. The voice of the 8-year-old Margaret Marsh was spot on - quirky and so realistic.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Eliza

    Really enjoyed this novel, especially Margaret and her illogical torrents of feeling. She made me think of my own daughter, who is almost her age. And actually, I have a baby too, and at times, many confusing emotions. So I guess there is a lot of connection with my own life. But even if you don't have quite so many parallel circumstances, I still recommend the story. I'm using my quarantine time to read everything I can by Jane Gardam, and her books never quite go how I expect. But I think that Really enjoyed this novel, especially Margaret and her illogical torrents of feeling. She made me think of my own daughter, who is almost her age. And actually, I have a baby too, and at times, many confusing emotions. So I guess there is a lot of connection with my own life. But even if you don't have quite so many parallel circumstances, I still recommend the story. I'm using my quarantine time to read everything I can by Jane Gardam, and her books never quite go how I expect. But I think that slightly off-balanced feeling is one of the ways she does such a good job capturing the surprising level of emotional turmoil that comes just from living every day life. I'd like to read this again someday, as there were a few minor characters I didn't pay attention to, and then they were significant in the end.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Poornima Vijayan

    Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Jane Gardam rocks. Elinor has had a baby and she tries really hard to let her daughter Margaret know that she is still loved, just as much. And in doing this, she overdoes it. Now the image that gets conjured up is of a mother who is simple, exhausted and trying too hard. Then we meet Elinor's old boyfriend and the picture we now draw of Elinor is one of resilience, with her own mind and strong. This is how Jane Gardam writes, showing us various sketches of the sa Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Jane Gardam rocks. Elinor has had a baby and she tries really hard to let her daughter Margaret know that she is still loved, just as much. And in doing this, she overdoes it. Now the image that gets conjured up is of a mother who is simple, exhausted and trying too hard. Then we meet Elinor's old boyfriend and the picture we now draw of Elinor is one of resilience, with her own mind and strong. This is how Jane Gardam writes, showing us various sketches of the same person. We're moved from feeling pity and oneness with the characters to disdain and scorn. I found the book exhilarating!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sonia Gensler

    I am such a fan of Jane Gardam -- BILGEWATER might be my favorite so far -- and I found this book terrifically captivating, particularly the first half with its focus on Margaret. Suppose I'll need to read the "Old Filth" books before too long. I am such a fan of Jane Gardam -- BILGEWATER might be my favorite so far -- and I found this book terrifically captivating, particularly the first half with its focus on Margaret. Suppose I'll need to read the "Old Filth" books before too long.

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