Rosoff uses this not unconventional scene to discuss narcissistic personalities, sibling hierarchies and the ability for a short love affair to change the direction of a life and stay lodged in the heart for ever. The novel’s epigraph, William Blake’s line, “And we are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love”, sums up Rosoff’s mission. Unlike so many YA novels, which make love look like a walk in the skate park, Rosoff tells it like it is: disruptive, painful, indelible and requiring a tough hide. I can think of no better writer to break the news.
Rosoff’s adolescent narrator is spot on: from jabs at the younger siblings (one of them “never helps”) to the silent confusion of teenage lust (“I didn’t want to look as if I didn’t understand the rules”). There’s an intriguing tension between the narrator’s namelessness and the fervent (and quintessentially teenage) insistence on their own uniqueness – especially when it comes to relations with Kit, who “came to me for something tangled, dark, compelling”. To the narrator, love is a form of self-affirmation, a recognition of the “you you’ve always secretly believed in, the you that inspired longing and delight, the you no one else really noticed before”.
Not all of it holds up, like Kit’s characterisation as an 18-year-old Don Juan, but so what? Its hazy nostalgia tempered by a winning self-awareness, The Great Godden is a joyful, generous read.
A coming-of-age story for the unnamed narrator, the eldest of four skilfully characterised siblings, it is also an original take on teenage passion and an antidote to the clichés of young adult love stories. When a charismatic boy joins the party, two of the siblings fall for him. But this is not a romance: it is about manipulation, narcissism and how dangerous infatuation can be. Its warning rings true.