cover image God on the Rocks

God on the Rocks

Jane Gardam, Europa (Penguin, dist.), $15 (208p) ISBN 978-1-933372-76-1

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. (Nov.)