Review: Grief Cottage – Gail Godwin

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Date Read: 16 July 2017

Published by Bloomsbury Publishing, August 2017

Verdict: Wonderfully executed meditation of grief and loss and growing up.

Find it on Goodreads.

The haunting tale of a desolate cottage, and the hair-thin junction between this life and the next, from bestselling National Book Award finalist Gail Godwin.

After his mother’s death, eleven-year-old Marcus is sent to live on a small South Carolina island with his great aunt, a reclusive painter with a haunted past. Aunt Charlotte, otherwise a woman of few words, points out a ruined cottage, telling Marcus she had visited it regularly after she’d moved there thirty years ago because it matched the ruin of her own life. Eventually she was inspired to take up painting so she could capture its utter desolation.

The islanders call it “Grief Cottage,” because a boy and his parents disappeared from it during a hurricane fifty years before. Their bodies were never found and the cottage has stood empty ever since. During his lonely hours while Aunt Charlotte is in her studio painting and keeping her demons at bay, Marcus visits the cottage daily, building up his courage by coming ever closer, even after the ghost of the boy who died seems to reveal himself. Full of curiosity and open to the unfamiliar and uncanny given the recent upending of his life, he courts the ghost boy, never certain whether the ghost is friendly or follows some sinister agenda.

Grief Cottage is the best sort of ghost story, but it is far more than that–an investigation of grief, remorse, and the memories that haunt us. The power and beauty of this artful novel wash over the reader like the waves on a South Carolina beach.

This is a wonderful meditation of grief and loss but also on family and human connection. I absolutely adored this very slow-moving, character focussed novel – but I thought the ending fizzled out and focussed different aspects than I would have liked.

This book follows Marcus, who after just having lost his mother moves to live with his great-aunt Charlotte. She is a bit of a hermit, earning her money painting pictures of the island she lives on and avoiding human interaction as much as possible and has to drastically alter her life to accommodate having an 11-year-old boy live with her. Marcus becomes obsessed with an old house and its history – especially with the history of the boy who lost his life there whose body was never found and whose ghost he starts to see and converse with.

Marcus and Charlotte circle each other, both unsure what to make of the other and of the way their lives have changed; both are not particulary articulated, they are closed off and try to solve their problems on their own. They do not know how to help each other, but they try anyways. I love the human connection that is at the core of this novel and I adore the personification of it by the way of Lachicotte – a wonderful character with so much empathy and love

The story unfolds very very slowly and carefully, moving in circles much in the same way Marcus’ thoughts move in circles around the unbelievable fact of his mother’s death. Gail Godwin creates a mesmerizing picture of a place and of a feeling where the roughness of nature mirrors Marcus’ loss in an absolutely spell-binding way.

First (two) sentence(s): “Once there was a boy who lost his mother. He was eleven years, five months, four days – and would never know how many hours and minutes.”

I received an arc of this book curtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review. Thanks for that!

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