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God On The Rocks [Paperback]

Jane Gardam
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
RRP: 8.99
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Book Description

7 Aug 2008
During one glorious summer between the wars, the realities of life and the sexual ritual dance of the adult world creep into the life of young Margaret Marsh. Her father, preaching the doctrine of the unsavoury Primal Saints; her mother, bitterly nostalgic for what might have been; Charles and Binkie, anchored in the past and a game of words; dying Mrs Frayling and Lydia the maid, given to the vulgar enjoyment of life; all contribute to Margaret's shattering moment of truth. And when the storm breaks, it is not only God who is on the rocks as the summer hurtles towards drama, tragedy, and a touch of farce.

Frequently Bought Together

God On The Rocks + The People On Privilege Hill + The Man In The Wooden Hat (Old Filth Trilogy 2)
Price For All Three: 19.37

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (7 Aug 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349121494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349121499
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 11,171 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jane Gardam has been awarded the Heywood Hill Literary Prize for a lifetime's contribution to the enjoyment of literature; has twice won a Whitbread Award and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

Product Description


'A meticulously observed modern classic' INDEPENDENT 'Exact, piquant and comical' OBSERVER 'Tantalising ... Funny, sharp' DAILY TELEGRAPH Jane Gardam has a spectacular gift for detail of the local and period kind, and for details which make characters so subtly unpredictable that they ring true' TLS

Book Description

*A moving, Booker shortlisted story of a girl's coming of age, beautifully rejacketed for this reissue

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, moving and believable 15 Sep 2000
By A Customer
Despite the sometimes farcical aspects of this story, it's a moving and still believable tribute to childhood, old age, passion, obsession and loneliness. Each character can stand alone as a pen sketch in human nature. This is a lovely book, touchingly simple in its descriptions of the human condition, but full of complex characters - just like life itself!. I loved it and highly recommend it as an introduction to Jane Gardam.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Margaret and the Primal Saints 28 Dec 2009
By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Wednesdays is `treat' day for Margaret, when her mother allows her to go on an outing with the maid, Lydia. Ellie, Margaret's mother, has just had another baby and she knows that Margaret, now eight, needs to feel loved. There are several things wrong with this scenario and, gradually, Gardam lets us discover what they are. Lydia, for instance is a magnet for young men, blowsy, large and blonde. Margaret's parents are members of the Primal Saints, a small Christian sect who do not allow pictures, music or dancing and there must be no alcohol or smoking in their houses. Margaret's father is a bank clerk and leader of the sect. Lydia has been sent (by distant Saints in Bishop Aukland, recommended as "a good girl from a devout family, strong in the faith and a good scrubber."). Lydia is not averse to work, but she is far from the paragon promised. Mrs Marsh is disconcerted: "We thought - you see, we thought -," she said. "Didn't you know? Mr Marsh, and I of course, and the children - we are The Faithful."

"Think nothing of it," said Lydia, "Where d'you keep yer butter?"

Astonishingly for Ellie Marsh, her husband will not hear of Lydia being sent away, "She has been sent," said Marsh. "We are to work His will."

The novel as a whole is a delight. Lydia wreaks havoc, Margaret learns that her mother is fallible and that the world is a much larger place than she thought. Ellie Marsh has a past more interesting than her present, with connections to an aristocratic family living nearby - whose matriarch has disinherited her children after ruining most of their lives and turning their stately pile into a refuge for so-called lunatics. These elements of the story are gradually brought together to provide a brilliant and exhilarating comedy of manners.

Shortlisted for the Booker in 1978, this novel is funny, sometimes provoking and profound.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Set in England in the era between the two world wars, God on the Rocks, with its sly, multi-layered title, is one of Jane Gardam's earliest novels, a delightful but carefully considered look at society, religion, personal responsibility, and acts of fate in the lives of several families. Eight-year-old Margaret Marsh, the primary speaker, is energetic and thoughtful, living comfortably with her very religious bank manager-father and her subservient and seemingly passive mother. The family has recently been joined, however, by Lydia, a "fallen woman" whom her father Kenneth believes he is called upon to "save."

An especially precocious child, Margaret is having a hard time at home, these days, unable to understand the God who has sent her a baby brother who bores her (she wishes she could call him "Scummy," instead of Terrence), and as she and her mother argue about why Margaret needs to love the baby, Margaret reveals an unusually sophisticated ability to think on two levels--that of her real life, which is infinitely more exciting now that Lydia has arrived, and that of the spiritual life which her parents are encouraging in her. As Margaret questions the act of creation on all levels, along with what love really is, she is confused. "If I'd been God, I'd have left it at dinosaurs," she remarks. "And if God looks like us...What's the point?"

Through flashbacks, Margaret's early rebellions appear, and as she happily meets "damaged" people at the beach, like Drinkwater, an artist who may be living at the rest home nearby (primarily for the shell shocked), her view of the world also grows.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure in store ! 16 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Have lent this to a friend, a friend who had not come across Jane Gardam before ~ I look forward to reading it when she has finished it. J.P.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lessons on the Beach 8 Sep 2010
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
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. Accompanied by her nurse Lydia -- a decidedly secular and sexual young woman, although nominally also a Saint -- her eyes are opened to more than mere seaside attractions. She stumbles upon a great house converted into a sanatorium for shell-shock victims, and then finds Lydia flirting rather physically with the gardener. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book is watching the author gradually adjust the language from the child's-eye view to a more adult perspective, as Margaret learns, albeit from a distance, the lineaments of denial and desire, dimly perceives the consequences of divisions in class, and discovers that her idols have feet of clay. The author's focus gradually changes also to the older generations, exploring the frustrations of Margaret's mother, the ripples caused by the return of some old childhood friends, and the machinations of a rich old lady dying in the big house. Readers of Gardam's later books will know the mixture of pathos, humanity, sadness, and occasional bawdy humor that she can create, and will not be surprised when everything connects up in somewhat hopeful fashion at the end -- although I did feel that the postlude here was a little too obviously tacked on. All the same, this is a fascinating piece of time-travel well worth taking, even for those who did not grow up in the atmosphere it describes.

[Although the original edition of this book is out of print, I am reviewing an advance copy of a beautifully-produced Europa Editions paperback, due for release in October 2010. While it is by no means a deep book, it will make a very pleasant read in this edition.]
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should know about this book 5 Feb 2011
By Debra Monroe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Looking hard at the...Renoir she said, 'I wonder if that child was a ghost?'" 21 Feb 2012
By John Sollami - Published on Amazon.com
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life on the Rocks 24 Nov 2010
By K. L. Cotugno - Published on Amazon.com
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "It's best just to look and be." 20 July 2011
By Kimberly Wade - Published on Amazon.com
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. It's because they miss the common simplicity of life that they are constantly engaged in conflicts with one another, conflicts that are by turns funny, poignant, and heartbreaking. This is a domestic drama that delivers up as much tension as a murder mystery--what will happen when Marsh cracks, as Lydia knows is inevitable? What will happen when Elinor stops breastfeeding?

We learn that one who goes away and returns is changed, their perspective permanently altered. Just as the Frayling siblings are changed by Cambridge, their mother's nurse, Booth, waxes over her time spent in China, saying, "Never the same again. You're never the same again." Margaret asks, "Do you have to leave a place to be clever?" It's the shifting perspectives in this book that make it interesting, the going away and returning, to another place or another time.
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