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God on the Rocks Paperback – October 26, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

American readers first turned on to Gardam via Old Filth are in for a surprise with the witty though decidedly more serious story of Margaret Marsh, who comes of age in interwar England. Margaret grows up the only child in an oppressively religious household, and her world gets a much-needed shaking up when her mother, Ellie, has another child and hires a maid, the bawdy but loving Lydia. Lydia immediately begins taking Margaret on day trips that open her eyes to the way others live. Margaret's father, Kenneth, meanwhile, sees Lydia as a laboratory for his Godly work, though he ends up being a less than ideal practitioner of the moral lifestyle he preaches. Then there's Ellie, whose reintroduction to a long-lost love tempts her down the path of what might have been. It all leads to a precipice of disillusion for Margaret regarding her parents' behavior, shattering her perceptions and leading to tragedy. Gardam doesn't waste a word, and the story reads as fresh and relevant now as when it was originally published in Great Britain in 1978.
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From Booklist

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. --Courtney Jones

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 195 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions; F First Edition edition (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933372761
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933372761
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #512,235 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I may not be the best person to review this delightful 1978 novel by Jane Gardam, author of OLD FILTH and THE MAN IN THE WOODEN HAT, since much of my enjoyment comes from the fact that this is MY world she is describing -- a small seaside resort in Northern Britain, such as the one where I grew up. Although this is moved back half a generation to the mid-thirties when, instead of the dying sputters of postwar austerity, there was ALWAYS a band in the bandstand, ices on the promenade, and pierrots on the pier. And preachers on the beach, with tambourines and trombones, tracts and hymn-singing; that part I most certainly remember, and it is central to this book. For the novel's main character, eight-year-old Margaret Marsh, has a father who is a part-time evangelist -- like my own, actually, but of a stricter persuasion. "He and his wife were members of the Primal Saints and most of their free time was spent in the local Primal Hall down Turner Street -- a very nasty street of plum and sandstone and silence." Yet Margaret loves her father and has acquired a prodigious knowledge of Bible verses, all referred to by name and number, as in: "Her feet were on the earth and her life yielding fruit Genesis one eleven." Or: "She wondered two Corinthians five one whether she had seen a home not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Alas, I have been there also.

The book begins with a exquisitely described trip on a local train to the nearby resort. Given the Saints' prohibition on entertainment and frivolity of all kinds, the excursion is like an entry into a different world for Margaret.
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I continually found myself torn between wanting to re-read the last 3-4 pages because they were so deft, so amazing, that I wanted them to happen to me all over again, and meanwhile wanting to keep reading ahead because the plot is so suspenseful, so driven, and so satisfying.

There's a really luminous quality to the prose. Certain sections read like Chekhov at his best.

I have been reading all the Orange Prize winners and finalists, and they are all pretty great. I wonder why American fiction can't be like this? Really well-written and smart and, at the same time, accessible and entertaining. (It seems like our books are either one or the other: suspenseful but in a generic way; or literary in a trying-too-hard way.)

This book has it both ways. It's smart and it's also a good time.
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Format: Paperback
This novel has the feel of other worldliness about it, as if it's happening in a transmuted time and place. Whenever a child sits in the middle of an adult world, that child acts as a doorway into the past and the future, into truth and deception, true love and false accommodation. At the outset of this superbly crafted work, much in the lives of the central characters remains hidden, and Margaret Marsh, the 8-year-old daughter of Elinor and Kenneth Marsh, is the catalyst acting to pull back the curtain and reveal reality. Her dogmatic father has completely saturated Margaret's mind with the Bible, and her mother has accommodated herself to Kenneth even as she has buried her childhood and adolescent feelings of love for her friend Charles. Only when a new housekeeper arrives, Lydia, do Margaret's and her parents' inner worlds gradually awaken.

To give a plot summary here would be to spoil the joy of discovering this intricately woven story of intersecting lives. The many characters are rich and real. And the writing is impressionistic, Joycean, and economical. The choices of details are carefully considered and perfectly rendered. This novel grew on me as I read on, and by the end, I wanted to start it all over again. What a brilliant work! Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam has that special dreamy quality that so often hooks me, but that hook didn't sink in quickly. I was two chapters in before I was caught. Then I couldn't get enough of eight year-old protagonist, Margaret, and the tangle of complex relationships that surround her. The book is set in England in the early part of the 20th century, where breast-feeding an infant is a touch Bohemian and removing your stockings in public a precursor to sin, so we're appropriately scandalized when Margaret's eighteen year-old maid, Lydia, ducks behind a tree to remove her corset, but our 21st century perspective applauds her spirit. We know immediately who the heroine in this story is. While Margaret's preacher father, Marsh, seems to care only for scripture ("Mind the Book and not the sunset."), while her mother, Elinor, is absorbed in the simple bodily needs of her new baby, it's Lydia who sets Margaret free to roam in the woods. When the cigarette-smoking Lydia first arrives and immediately sets about making scones, Elinor seems fearful and says, "she must go." But Marsh won't hear of it: "`She has been sent,' said Marsh. `We are to work His will.'" He seems intent on reforming the sinner, but when he suggests he and Lydia take a walk together in the woods, she adamantly refuses. To her mind, there's only one reason a man would want to get her alone in the woods, and her reasoning makes us question Marsh's intentions as well.

Seen through the eyes of a perceptive, precocious child, all the adults seem absurd. Margaret's POV is the simple voice of reason, and Lydia is her only ally in natural living. The rest have all been led astray by odd obsessions--love, power, self-sacrifice, a particular way of worshipping god.
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