Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin
General Fiction (Adult)
Pub Date 06 Jun 2017
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.
The story has strong characters and the protagonist, Marcus, is an old soul or how old was he really telling this story? I was never quite sure and at times I felt like there was too much telling rather than showing. He doesn’t have childhood friends really and he relates to adults more than children his own age. His Aunt Charlotte-who takes him in after his mother dies- is quite an odd bird and values her privacy in extreme ways.
While the premise is an interesting one, I found it hard to get into and it took me sometime to finish the book. When I finally got to the ending it just seemed to end abruptly and I was dissatisfied, as I was hoping there would be a strong climax to the story. How is this a thriller ghost story? I didn’t come away with that feeling at all. The conflicts seemed muted to me.
On a positive note, much of the story is atmospheric and the setting is quite good.
I am sad to report I gave this book two stars.
I obtained a review copy from the publishers through NetGalley for my honest opinion.
Stephanie M. Hopkins